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Maria returns

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Maria Sharapova, targeting an April return to the WTA after the reduction of her doping ban, will try to start sharpening her game on Monday in the friendly confines of a charity event in Las Vegas.

The Russian superstar will play in the World Team Tennis Smash Hits event at Caesars Palace, which is hosted by Billie Jean King and Elton John for the benefit of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Her appearance alongside such stars as Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick will delight her legion of fans, who remain faithful despite the controversy Sharapova stirred last week with her charge that the International Tennis Federation wanted to make an example of her in her doping case.

‘‘I got a 24-month suspension, but they (the ITF) wanted four years for me,’’ Sharapova said in an interview with US broadcaster PBS, a claim ITF officials denied.

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