Although she did not put in her best performance, Maria Sharapova clinched a straight sets victory over Christina McHale in the first round of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia, sealing a place in the second round where she would have a rematch against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. This win pushed the Russian back into the Top 200 of the rankings for the first time since her comeback and managing to book a spot in the Wimbledon qualifying rounds for herself.
Sharapova steals the first set
Sharapova showed some signs of a slow start as she failed to find her first serves, allowing McHale to exploit those vulnerable second serves of her, breaking serve to 30 in the opening game and taking the early lead. Earning the golden opportunity to consolidate the break of serve in the next game when she led 40-15, McHale let the early jitters get over her as she found zero first serves in the next four points, gifting Sharapova back the break and return level on the scoreboard. It was a galore of service breaks as the American took advantage of some loose play from the Russian, regaining the lead in the third game.
The first holds of serve finally came as there was an exchange of comfortable service hold before Sharapova fought back once more by earning the fourth break of serve in the set, leaving the scoreline tied at three games all. Both players continued to struggle on their serves as there were yet another couple of service breaks, and Sharapova finally held her serve once more to earn the lead for the very first time in the match. Serving to stay in the set, McHale was unable to fend off the tough challenge of Sharapova and crumbled under pressure as the Russian sealed the first set 6-4 after 54 minutes of play. Coming from a break down thrice in this set, the Russian was very lucky to have gotten away with the victory of the first set.
Sharapova seals the victory
A tough opening game of the second set saw Sharapova display some tough mental skills as she prevailed in the nervy service game, carrying the momentum over from the first set. McHale’s serve seemed to have abandoned her in the set as she was broken to 15 in the early stages, allowing Sharapova to lead by a set and a break.
The former world number one then easily consolidated the service break, holding her serve to love as she opened up a formidable 3-0 lead and the victory looked certain to be hers. A bagel set looked to be coming our way when Sharapova earned four break points in the fourth game, looking very comfortable in her game and with the conditions after the slow start.
However, her inability to convert those break points since her comeback continued to plague her, allowing McHale to get that tight service hold and have a chance to find a way back into the match. Sharapova did not seem to get affected by the failure to convert the four break points as she finally managed to break serve for the second time in the set and having a huge 5-1 lead, earning the opportunity to serve out the match.
McHale then took advantage of some inconsistent serving by the world number 211 as she immediately got one of the breaks back, keeping her in the match for at least one more game. Similar to the first set, the American failed to find any good serves at the most crucial moment as she threw in a double fault of Sharapova’s first match point, gifting the Russian the win after 97 minutes.