Serena Williams Picture: AP

Maria Sharapova offered her congratulations to pregnant rival Serena Williams after the Russian made her return from a 15-month ban for doping on Wednesday.

"I think it’s one of the greatest gifts that a woman can receive in life, it’s a blessing. It’s a beautiful chapter in her life," said Sharapova when asked about Williams.

Sharapova was banned after the former world number one tested positive for meldonium following her quarter-final defeat to Williams at the 2016 Australian Open.

Williams, who has just regained the world number one slot, revealed last week that she is expecting her first baby and will not play again this year.

Williams, 35, has dominated the Russian for more than a decade with 19 wins compared to Sharapova's two, both of which came back in 2004.

Sharapova made her return at the WTA tournament in Stuttgart on Wednesday when she brushed off the rust to seal a with a 7-5, 6-3 first-round win over Roberta Vinci.

Sharapova has won five Grand Slam titles, compared to Williams' 23, and will discover on May 16 whether she will be able to play at the French Open on a wild card.

AFP