BEIJING, China -- Wildcard Maria Sharapova claimed her second consecutive three-set victory at the China Open on Tuesday, as she outlasted fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, to advance to the third round.
"There are certain moments of the match where you have to think a little bit more, where it's not coming as naturally as maybe it did in the past," Sharapova said to the media, regarding her plethora of three-set matches. "That takes time. But to be able to get through them physically and do the right thing when it matters is what I can ask from myself."
Sharapova, who won the China Open title in her most recent appearance in Beijing in 2014, will face off against No.2 seed Simona Halep of Romania in the round of 16. This will be a rematch of their electric first-round encounter at the US Open this summer.
"We know each other's games very well," Sharapova said of Halep. "That's no secret. They've always been very challenging, tough, competitive, emotional [matches]. But every day's a new day. I think that's why we play these tournaments, play these events."
Sharapova had won the previous seven matches in her rivalry with Makarova; six of those came in straight sets, including a win in Sharapova’s first event of this year at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Makarova won a set for the first time since their very first meeting in 2011, but Sharapova prevailed in two hours and 12 minutes.
Sharapova and Makarova both returned serve exceptionally, with 12 breaks of serve off of 16 opportunities to break. The two former Top 10 players combined for 58 winners in a topsy-turvy affair, where second serves were regularly punished.
After a mix of down-the-line winners and extravagant court coverage gave Makarova a break lead after the first game of the match, it seemed like the World No.33 was angling for her first win over her more heralded compatriot.
Sharapova, however, amped up her trademark aggression on every shot, and reeled off four straight games to lead by a break at 4-2. Inopportune double faults by Sharapova in that game let Makarova get back on serve, but Sharapova broke once more for 5-3 via exceptional returning.
Sharapova faltered when serving for the set at 5-3, as well-timed winners by Makarova put her back on serve again, at 5-4. Makarova could not hold in the next game, though, and when her forehand clipped the tape and did not go over, Sharapova led by a set.
Makarova broke Sharapova in the first game of the second set as well, sealing the lead with a backhand winner. Makarova took advantage of that lead this time around, holding in two tricky service games in a row, and then breaking at love to extend her lead to 4-1.
In that game, Makarova double faulted while down break point, to hand one of the breaks back to Sharapova, but the three-time Grand Slam champion in women's doubles held firm throughout the rest of the set.
After Sharapova saved a set point on her serve at 5-3, Makarova converted on her third set point in the next game, when she forced an error off of a tremendous forehand. The match was deadlocked, with very few points separating the two Russians.
Sharapova admitted in press that Makarova "definitely picked it up in the second. But I felt like although she won that second set, I was really motivated to start the third. I was questioning how I would feel physically, but I felt really good going into the third set."
Any momentum that Makarova carried into the third set was quickly quashed when Sharapova broke for 2-0, after a powerful backhand forced an error from Makarova down break point. Sharapova then held firm through her next two tense service games, relying on clutch serving en route to a 4-1 lead in the decider.
Makarova had two game points to hold for 4-2 and stay within striking distance, but unfortunate errors dragged the game to deuce, and more big hitting from Sharapova helped her fight to claim another break. At 5-1, victory felt inevitable for the former World No.1.
Indeed, an easy hold at love closed out the match after a final Makarova service return went wide, and Sharapova clinched her second three-set win of the event.
"I think I made the right adjustments today," Sharapova said, when asked about the mental and physical processes of her comeback. "I faced a match point in my previous match. It could have gone the wrong way and I wouldn't have had a chance to come out here and do what I did today. So I think setting up those opportunities is really important for me."