PARIS • There was the usual pre-toss skipping routine, an abundance of shrieks and the oft-seen mid-match wobble as Maria Sharapova returned to the French Open following a two-year hiatus with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win against Richel Hogenkamp yesterday.
The former world No. 1 ended up spending more time than she would have wanted on Court Suzanne Lenglen in defeating the Dutch qualifier but the only thing that mattered was that she was into the second round.
"I really dug deep but sometimes you need to go through these types of matches where things don't go the way you want," the 2012 and 2014 champion said courtside.
"Happy the way I came back in the third set. I'm so fortunate to be back in this position, I formed so many great memories here."
Sharapova, seeded 28th, missed the 2016 tournament while serving a doping ban and failed in her bid to secure a wildcard entry into last year's event.
After being given a warm welcome by the Roland Garros crowd when she arrived on court, the 31-year-old Russian raced to a 3-0 lead in the opening set. She wrapped it up in just 24 minutes as she mixed her powerful game with a couple of delicate drop shots.
The five-time Grand Slam champion broke early in the second set too, only for Hogenkamp to level for 3-3.
Another trade of breaks ensued and Hogenkamp broke again in the 10th game to level the match when Sharapova netted a backhand.
Things then got much worse for Sharapova. She peppered the court with unforced errors, falling 3-0 behind in the decider as Hogenkamp bagged six games in a row. But her never-say-die attitude resurfaced and she pocketed the next six games to set up a meeting with Croatia's Donna Vekic.
There was also a winning return for 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams, who defeated Czech Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The 36-year-old last played at Roland Garros in 2016, when she was runner-up to Garbine Muguruza, and last featured in a Major tournament in a victorious 2017 Australian Open campaign while two months pregnant.
Despite some obvious rust following her lengthy absence from the Tour to give birth to her daughter in September, the world No. 451 overcame 25 unforced errors to book a clash against Australian Ashleigh Barty. World No. 70 Pliskova committed 32 unforced errors and remains winless in four appearances in the singles main draw at Roland Garros.
Defending men's champion Rafael Nadal was also glad to survive a test, saving four set points in a tie-break against lucky loser Simone Bolelli of Italy before winning 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11-9).
Resuming the match after a thunderstorm ended Monday night's play with the Spaniard down 3-0 in the third set, Nadal was forced to close out a hard-fought first-round encounter.
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