Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova has hit back at her critics and said that her 15-month doping ban has only fueled her passion for the game. The 30-year-old's comments came as she penned an emotional letter to his fans about her roller-coaster ride since making a return in April from her suspension for the use of Meldonium.
Although Sharapova admitted that last two years had been extremely difficult for her, she added her passion for the game had never vanished.
"Though these last two years have been tougher, so much tougher than I ever could have anticipated. My passion for the game has never wavered. If anything, it's only grown stronger, said Sharapova.
Hitting back at her critics, the five-time Grand Slam champion insisted that she was well aware of the things said behind her back, but she had been bolstered by the loyalty shown by her fans.
"I'm aware of what many of my peers have said about me, and how critical of me some of them have been in the press. If you're a human being with a normal beating heart, you know, I don't think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore," she said.
Sharapova's comeback has already been disrupted by a hip muscle injury, but she looks adamant to tackle the US hard court season well.
"I'm sure my dozens of critics will show up, and so will my thousands of fans," she wrote. But ultimately, who knows? When it comes to tennis, good or bad - there's really only one thing that I know for certain. I've missed it," Sharapova added.
The Russian, who made a return without a ranking in April and has since then risen to 211 in the world after receiving wild cards in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome, had earlier also received a wildcard entry for Stanford tournament as she prepares to compete in the tournament for the first time six years.
In April at the Stuttgart Open, Sharapova played her first match since her quarter-final defeat to former world number one Serena Williams at the 2016 Australian Open, where she was tested positive for banned substance Meldonium.
Her earlier two-year ban was reduced to 15 months following an appeal to the court of arbitration for sport, which concluded she had not intended to cheat.
(With ANI Inputs).