INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - A trio of Russians made strong starts to their BNP Paribas Open campaigns Saturday, as Maria Sharapova, Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova all scored straight set wins in their opening round matches.
Kirilenko and Petrova, who have been playing doubles together this year, were the first two to advance. The No.30-seeded Petrova fired seven aces to beat American wildcard Lauren Davis, 63 62, while the No.20-seeded Kirilenko had a much tougher battle, needing two and a half hours to edge Irina-Camelia Begu in a tight two-setter, 76(4) 64 - the first set alone was 86 minutes.
Sharapova, the No.2 seed, needed just 65 minutes to beat Gisela Dulko in the feature night match, 62 60. Sharapova absolutely dominated Dulko's service games, breaking six of seven times - including two at love and two more at 15.
"Gisela is always tricky - we've played a few times before, and she's beaten me at a major before," Sharapova said. "She's someone who, when you give her a lot of time, she creates good angles, has really good hands, and can become quite dangerous. As a first round opponent, I had to be ready from the start.
"I haven't played a tournament in a few weeks. I was eager to get out there."
Indian Wells has been a memorable venue for Sharapova in the past - she played her very first WTA main draw here 10 years ago and has been to the semifinals or better four times here, including winning the championship in 2006.
Sharapova wasn't the only Top 10 player in action, with No.4 seed Caroline Wozniacki reeling off nine games in a row to see Ekaterina Makarova off, 62 60; No.6 seed Sam Stosur winning the first nine games of her match against Irina Falconi, closing the American wildcard out, 60 63; and No.7 seed Marion Bartoli pulling off a stellar comeback in the last match of the night, rallying from 5-2 down in the third to beat American qualifier Varvara Lepchenko, 26 62 75.
"I don't like to be out there for too long if I don't have to," Wozniacki said in her press conference. "I mean, I like to play tennis and I love grinding it out, but if I have the opportunity to finish it off fast, I like that opportunity, as well.
"This is a tournament I really like playing. I feel I can play well here."
Wozniacki has reached the final here the last two years, finishing runner-up to Jelena Jankovic in 2010 and winning it last year, over Bartoli in the final.
"To be back here brings back really good memories," Wozniacki said. "It's like a family tournament because the same people come out and watch. I have loads of friends here and have barbecues and stuff. It just makes it feel more homey."
Other winners were No.31 seed Lucie Safarova and unseeded Ksenia Pervak, who beat No.17 seed Peng Shuai, 64 60 - the Kazakh's win over the World No.18 was her third Top 20 win, having beaten a No.13-ranked Andrea Petkovic in 2011 and a No.15-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year.