Sharapova dismantles Makarova to make Stuttgart quarter-finals
Maria Sharapova appeared close to her very best on Thursday, producing some spectacular tennis to see off Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-1 at the Stuttgart Open.
Sharapova's return from a doping ban has been the talk of the tournament so far, but 15 months away from the court does not appear to have dimmed her talents.
After Makarova wasted a chance to get ahead, the former world number one made her pay in devastating fashion, winning eight of nine games to race to victory.
Having avoided seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska at this stage - Makarova ousted the Pole - luck appears to be shining on the wildcard after potential quarter-final opponent, and fifth seed, Garbine Muguruza lost to Anett Kontaveit earlier on Tuesday.
World number one Angelique Kerber, the double defending champion in Stuttgart, remains a potential semi-final opponent.
On this evidence, however, that ought not to put too much fear in Sharapova - winner of the three tournaments that preceded Kerber's dominance - her forehand was as flat and fast as ever, although seven break points hints at some lingering rust in her game.
Neither player opened up a break point until game 11 as Makarova pounced on a string of Sharapova second serves, including on break point when the former champion was forced to play a desperate shot over her shoulder, only for Makarova to hit her backhand wide with open court, and break point, going to waste.
And Sharapova struck immediately, latching onto a ball left short by Makarova to bury it in the corner and secure a break, which was consolidated, along with the set in the next game.
Seemingly still stunned by her costly error, Makarova's composure completely deserted her as she began looking for unrealistic shots and playing right into Sharapova's hands. A glorious Sharapova drop shot resulted in a first break of the second set, while Makarova was sucked into a long-distance rally facing break point two games later and netted.
And Sharapova served out in style, a pair of aces down the tee serving as a warning to Kerber, and the wider tour, that she has hit the ground running after her enforced absence.