Sharapova triumphs on eve of French Open wildcard call
Maria Sharapova shrugged off a sluggish opening to progress to the second round of the WTA Internazionali BNL d'Italia with a win over Christina McHale on the eve of learning her French Open fate.
The Russian will find out on Tuesday whether she has been handed a wildcard for Roland Garros, where she is a two-time champion, following her 15-month doping suspension.
Rome has been a happy hunting ground for the 30-year-old, who won the last of her three titles there in 2015, and she recorded a 6-4 6-2 win on Monday.
The opening set was a hard-fought affair featuring seven breaks, with Sharapova - dumped out of the Madrid Open by fierce critic Eugenie Bouchard - taking time to find her range.
McHale seized on her opponent's wayward start and forged ahead against the serve when Sharapova sent a forehand long
But the wildcard entry hit back at the first attempt after McHale threw away a 40-15 advantage and a see-sawing contest continued in the same vein before the American held for a 3-1 lead.
The mistakes continued to come from Sharapova - a double fault cost her a third break before a timely pep talk from her coach prompted a revival from 4-3 down.
Having levelled it up with a pinpoint backhand, Sharapova started to get her serve going in a hold to 15 that featured some characteristically aggressive shot-making, before breaking once more for a one-set lead.
McHale, ranked 58th, faded badly in the second set as Sharapova hit her stride, producing glimpses of the talent that took her to world number one.
Despite now residing 211th, it is clear Sharapova retains the ability to reclaim a place among the elite and her second-set dismantling of McHale underlined that fact.