Svitolina off the mark in Rome, Sharapova battles through rain
Defending champion Elina Svitolina eased into the third round of the WTA Italian Open on May 15 as three-time winner Maria Sharapova needed a marathon three sets to get past Australian Ashleigh Barty.
Svitolina, the fourth seed, received a first round bye and dropped just three games in a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory over 35th-ranked Petra Martic.
The 23-year-old Ukrainian won the biggest clay court title of her career last year at the Foro Italico. And she continued where she left off despite the rainy conditions, needing just over an hour to peg back her Croatian rival.
By contrast, Sharapova needed two and a half hours to master 18th-ranked Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in their first round match.
“It was tough, tough conditions,” said 40th-ranked Sharapova, who reached the quarter-finals in Madrid last week.
“It felt like I was playing three different matches.
“There was a long wait and the way the court played, the way she played, the shadows, the little bit of a breeze out there. So, a lot going on.
“I think it was a really good way to end the match, to get that win.”
Sharapova’s victory, her 34th on clay in the Italian capital, came in her first meeting with Barty, who was making her Rome debut.
Barty pushed the five-time Grand Slam winner to a third set as she did against Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki last week in Madrid.
The game swung the Russian’s direction in the final set when Sharapova held serve in a crucial 1-1 game from 0-40 down after having failed to convert three break points in the previous game.
Barty, ranked 18, saved two match points in the final game against the 2011, 2012 and 2015 winner but two unforced errors in a row handed Sharapova a second round berth.
Sharapova next meets Dominika Cibulkova in the second round. The pair have not played each other since the Slovak won in the fourth round of the 2014 Australian Open on her way to the final.
“It’s been a while since I played her, she’s always been a tough opponent especially on clay,” said the Russian of the Slovak who leads 2-1 in clay court meetings.
Fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced to the third round past China’s Zhang Shuai 6-2, 7-5.
Svetlana Kuznetsova made light work of Slovenian Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-4 in her first round match as the Russian warms up for the French Open which she won in 2009.