ROME (AFP) - Maria Sharapova broke seven times to win her opening match at the Rome Masters on Monday, with the Russian wild card advancing over American Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2.
The five-time Grand Slam champion, who is coming back onto the WTA after completing a 15-month doping ban, advanced to the second round at the sun-drenched Foro Italico as she beat McHale for a fifth time without defeat.
The former number one, whose ranking has recovered into the 200s after a Stuttgart semi-final and a second round last week in Madrid, overcame seven double-faults in victory on the clay in 90 minutes.
She came through a hiccup 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.
Sharapova is still waiting to hear if she will receive a wild card entry into Roland Garros starting a week from Sunday.
The match began unsteadily, with three breaks of serve in the first 17 minutes, McHale took an early 3-1 lead. But the rhythm steadied as the experienced Sharapova pegged back her opponent and got to work.
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.