ROME: Three tournaments into her return from a 15-month doping ban, Maria Sharapova has already gained enough rankings points to enter qualifying for Wimbledon.
The five-time Grand Slam winner took advantage of another wild card and overcame a shaky opening set to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Italian Open on Monday.
Sharapova went down a quick break in the first set before revving up to claim the opener while playing in her third event since last month’s end of her ban.
“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.”
The former number one advanced to the second round at the sun-drenched Foro Italico as she beat McHale for a fifth time without defeat.
The former No 1’s ranking has recovered into the 200s and a semi-final this week would put her into the main draw for Wimbledon.
Sharapova came through a hic-cup near the end, losing serve as she prepared to wrap it up while leading 5-1, but recovered in the next game to emerge the winner.
“Winning matches will get me places, so if that’s where it got me here, then I will take it. The fact that I’m back and playing three weeks in a row now and three events in a row for me is a big deal. That’s my focus.”
Sharapova is playing Rome for the ninth time, winning the title in 2011, 2012 and two years ago; the 30-year-old owns 11 WTA tour-level titles on clay.
“At this point it’s week to week. I certainly have expectations of myself just because when you have accomplished things and when you have won big events and you have been number one, you know that feeling.”
Sharapova’s next opponent will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat Lucie Safarova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. Sharapova could face Angelique Kerber in the third round.
In men’s action, Olympic silver medalist and former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro rallied past Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, winning with seven aces after more than two hours.
Del Potro will next face Kyle Edmund of Britain, who beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-3, 6-4.
Also, David Goffin rallied past qualifier Thomaz Bellucci 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-4, and 12th seed Tomas Berdych required five set points to close out the opening set in a 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 win over Australian Open quarter-finalist Mischa Zverev.
Sam Querrey upset 11th seed Lucas Pouille, a semi-finalist last year, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (10-8), while Jan-Lennard Struff put out Australian Bernard Tomic 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-4.
Nicolas Almagro was another winner on Monday as he defeated beat Andreas Seppi of Italy 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 to set up a second-round clash with fellow Spaniard Rafa Nadal.