Maria Sharapova looked like she was in her best form after claiming an impressive and straightforward win against the dangerous hard-hitting Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round of the Shenzhen Open, starting her year in the best possible way.
Firing on all cylinders, the former world number one delighted an exuberant crowd with a 6-3, 6-0 triumph after just an hour and 20 minutes of play. Although the Russian would be disappointed with the number of double faults she was throwing in, she only lost serve once and conceded just six points behind her first serves. Sharapova will now face the two-time defending finalist Alison Riske in the second round.
Overcoming early deficit, Sharapova claims the first set
Throwing in a double-fault for her first point of 2018, Sharapova rebounded quickly as her first serves looked invincible, but Buzarnescu was clinical on her forehands, moving the Russian all around the baseline with her power. However, a couple of amazing returns from the five-time Grand Slam champion saw her earning a break point early on. Though, Buzarnescu ignored the nerves and instead played some of her best tennis on the crucial points.
It was like a battle between Sharapova and break points yet again, as the Russian often came up with impressive winners before succumbing to the Romanian’s fearless hitting. She would rue her missed opportunities after a slight misfocus saw her throw in four consecutive unforced errors, as Buzarnescu surprisingly made the first breakthrough.
A changeover seemed to have helped Sharapova regain the rhythm in her game, coming from 30-0 down to break straight back before another clean service game followed. In what was the longest game of the encounter, Sharapova needed six break points to finally gain the lead, with Buzarnescu finding a way to stay alive in the game on multiple occasions. Nonetheless, yet another merciless return sealed the marathon game for the Russian, before a clean service game earned her the first set after 48 minutes.
Sharapova rides through the second set
It was a smooth-sailing second set for Sharapova, who displayed her consistency and aggression in a near-perfect second set. Her improved backhand often set up her forehand winners, and Buzarnescu completely lost the plot after taking the lead in the first set. The Romanian’s serve was a liability, with Sharapova being able to hit three consecutive return winners off them in the fifth game.
Attempting to close out the match, Sharapova’s old habits came back to haunt her as she produced a slew of unforced errors to gift Buzarnescu break points. Realizing she was in trouble, she regrouped well and stormed her way to the empathic 6-3, 6-0 win after an hour and 20 minutes of play, losing just five points on serve in the second set.