Tennis: Erratic Sharapova books French Open third-round spot

Russia's Maria Sharapova serves to Croatia's Donna Vekic during their women's singles second round match on day five of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 31, 2018.
Russia's Maria Sharapova serves to Croatia's Donna Vekic during their women's singles second round match on day five of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 31, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - Maria Sharapova huffed and puffed her way into the French Open third round with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Croatia's Donna Vekic on Thursday (May 31).

The former world number one, back at Roland Garros after a two-year absence, was erratic throughout but her iron willpower helped her set up a meeting with sixth seed Karolina Pliskova.

Sharapova, who missed the 2016 tournament because of a doping ban and was denied an invitation last year on her return from suspension, will need to be more consistent if she is to beat the Czech, a semi-finalist here last year.

She failed to finish off a point at the net and Vekic counter-attacked to set up a break point in the first set, which the 28th-seeded Russian saved to move 4-3 up before breaking her opponent's serve.

Vekic, however, broke straight back with a powerful service return.

Sharapova, who is on a quarter-final collision course with 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain, was waiting for her moment. It came in the 12th game when she forced the Croatian into a lung-busting rally, forcing her opponent to net a forehand and drop the opening set.

To break Vekic's rhythm from the baseline, Sharapova mixed it up with exquisite drop shots, but she made 31 unforced errors and dropped serve four times on Court One.

Vekic, the world number 50, offered stiff resistance at 5-4 in the second set but she bowed out on the fifth match point when Sharapova fired a sizzling forehand winner.