MADRID • Maria Sharapova set up a mouth-watering second-round clash with Eugenie Bouchard at the Madrid Open after battling back from a set down to beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 yesterday.
Bouchard called the Russian "a cheater" last week and suggested she should have been banned for life - rather than 15 months - after testing positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open.
And the Canadian said she would "have a bit more motivation" against her former idol today after registering a first win on the WTA Tour since January against Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 yesterday to set up the grudge match.
After reaching the semi-finals on her return from her doping ban last week in Stuttgart, Sharapova showed impressive levels of fitness to dig deep after a tough opening set against Lucic-Baroni.
There were four breaks of serve in the opening six games, but Lucic-Baroni was good value for her lead when she served out to take the first set.
Former No. 1 Sharapova bounced back at the start of a gruelling second set that lasted over an hour by moving 4-1 in front. However, the world No. 20 held off four set points and then broke back for 5-4.
The Croatian's good work was undone, though, by a sloppy service game as Sharapova broke once more to level the match.
And there was no stopping the five-time Grand Slam champion in the decider as she dismissed a dispirited Lucic-Baroni for the loss of just 11 points.
Despite the controversy surrounding the decision to hand her a wild card, Sharapova was given a warm reception by the sparse crowd on the centre court in the Spanish capital.
"The first match of a tournament is always one of the most difficult and it's been a while since I played on this court," said the Russian, who needs to reach the third round to guarantee herself a qualifying place at Wimbledon.
"I was just so happy to be back out here, to have the opportunity to play against a really tough opponent and come out and be a winner in three sets.
"My goal is to play as many matches as I can right now. When you are out of the game for a long time you just want to play and want to compete and find yourself in different situations of the match.
"And like this one, it was extremely tough, not many rallies, she forced me to come out with some of my good tennis and I really had to dig deep."
In an earlier first-round match, British No. 1 Johanna Konta suffered a surprise defeat to Germany's Laura Siegemund 6-3, 5-7, 4-6. World No. 2 Angelique Kerber eased into round two with a convincing 6-4, 6-2 win over Hungary's Timea Babos. The German is the top seed in the draw. Her form has been inconsistent this season, but she was rarely troubled in wrapping up victory in just over an hour on court.
ATP MADRID OPEN
Day 1: StarHub Ch201, 6pm