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Maria Sharapova made a winning return to the Foro Italico after she overcame Christina McHale 64 62 in the first round on Centre Court on Monday.
The Russian wild card had won all four of her previous matches against the American, including at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in 2012, and needed 95 minutes to extend her unbeaten record to five.
In a tight first set, McHale was a break up three times but her lead on each occasion was short-lived. At 4-3 down in the opener Sharapova reeled off six straight games to secure the first set and put herself a break up in the second.
While the first set was close as the players found their rhythm, the second set was more straightforward. Sharapova served for the match at 5-1 only for McHale to reclaim a break. It was a fight back which didn’t last long however and a double fault in the very next game ended the match for the American.
“It felt slow and the conditions are quite different to Madrid,” said the three-time Italian Open champion. “It certainly took a few more games than I would have liked to get used to. But once I did, I felt like I took care of the second set quite well.”
It was a fourth straight first round defeat for the world No. 58, who is still looking for her first clay court victory of the year. Meanwhile for Sharapova, who has recently returned from a 15-month anti-doping ban, this victory ensures she will return to the Top 200 in the WTA rankings and is guaranteed a place in the Wimbledon qualifying draw.
In the second round Sharapova will face Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who battled past Lucie Safarova on Pietrangeli Court, with Angelique Kerber a potential third round opponent.