Maria Sharapova lives to fight another day at the Internazionali BNL D’italia in Rome, in the first round. The Russian prevailed 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, but Ashleigh Barty made her work harder than she would have liked.
Sharapova Shows Grit in the First Set
There were times during the first set when Sharapova showed that never say die spirit of old, saving two of three break points and converting the same ratio on the Barty serve. There were clear signs, even when Sharapova bagged an early break, that Barty would not fold easily.
The match began to turn into an intriguing game of cat and mouse. It was hard work, but Sharapova just edged the first set.
Barty Outslugs Sharapova to Take Control of 2nd Set
Barty is an intelligent player and she learned a lot from losing that first set. She started finding success by serving to the hip of the Russian and unsettling her rhythm. The 22-year-old Australian decided to turn it into even more of a baseline slugfest and worked will with the approach. Sharapova looked, at times, like a schoolyard bully someone decided to stand up to. She didn’t like the bossy Barty approach.
Barty ensured a three-set thriller was in store, taking the second set more comfortably than Sharapova took the first.
Sharapova Benefits from Strategic Toilet Break
Barty just wanted to get on with it and stride into the final set with the abandon she played in the second. Sharapova decided it’s time for a lengthy, legal toilet break before the start of this crucial set. Barty looked riled. However, the strategy unsettled both players initially, as they each struggled to hold to deuce in their first service games.
Sharapova then stepped it up to break in the third game. With this break seemed to go Barty’s spirit. The third set score made it look more comfortable than it really was.
Cibulkova up next for Sharapova
The “pocket rocket” Slovak, Dominique Cibulkova, didn’t look entirely comfortable in her three-set struggle against wild card Francesca Schiavone. That said, much like Sharapova herself, it was a case of job done.
Cibulkova has proven more than a match for the Russian previously, as a 3-3 head-to-head testifies. They have never met on clay, and although the Russian has room for improvement, she will fancy her chances of progressing through this one.
Sharapova has Work to Do
It was a frustrating, but eventually successful day at the office against Barty. However, the draw has been kind to the Russian, but she needs to improve quickly to ensure she is able to take advantage of it.