It’s difficult to predict how Maria Sharapova’s tennis career will be remembered once she retires from the sport.
The Russian has long been a divisive figure in the tennis world, but the meldonium scandal has arguably tipped the balance towards those who regard her with disfavour.
The 30-year-old has endured a barrage of criticism since returning from a 15-month suspension, with many believing she should be permanently disqualified.
But Sharapova appeared on court for the first time since last June at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in April, where she has previously won on three occasions.
Her comeback in Stuttgart was followed by additional offers of wildcards for Stuttgart and Madrid – two significant tournaments on the WTA schedule.
While she’s certainly good enough to warrant entry into such events, the notion of Sharapova getting several ‘free passes’ off the back of her actions hasn't gone down well among her peers.
In April, Eugenie Bouchard said, per ESPN: "She's a cheater and I don't think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play again.”
The Canadian certainly isn't alone in her view of the situation – Andy Murray has also questioned the legitimacy of a prescription drug being used to treat a heart condition found in many elite athletes.
Sharapova claims to have put the saga behind her, but she took an interview with the BBC as an opportunity to hit back at the likes of Bouchard and Murray.
"I think those are comments not based on facts, and therefore I don't take them into consideration,” she said.
"I don't think it's for them to really have an opinion, because they don't have the facts. So, you know, I think that those are the types of words that make headlines and they will be used as headlines.
"But ultimately, this is my career, and I faced it head on, and I admitted my mistake, and I went about it and I served my suspension and now I'm back."
SHARAPOVA MAINTAINS HER INNOCENCE
Sharapova has been taking meldonium for health issues since 2006, though it's thought the drug – banned as of January 1 last year – could enhance an athlete's stamina and endurance.
Even after serving her lengthy suspension, the two-Wimbledon champion maintains her innocence in light of accusations she used it to gain a competitive edge.
"The problem I have with that is there's no proof of what it does, and no one can give you that proof. What is the ban based on?" she said.
Irrespective of how Sharapova is perceived by fellow players and fans, there’s no faulting her ambition to return to the top.
Should Sharapova have been banned for a longer period? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
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