Maria Sharapova eased through her first match win since the Australian Open, knocking out J&T Banka Prague Open runner-up Mihaela Buzarnescu in straight sets at the Mutua Madrid Open.
David Kane
May 6, 2018

MADRID, Spain - 2014 Mutua Madrid Open champion Maria Sharapova earned her first win of the clay court season on Sunday, dismissing Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-4, 6-1, edging into the second round.

"I felt like I was making progress in my previous match," she said in press, referring to a narrow three-set loss to Caroline Garcia at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. "It was a tough, tough opponent that I faced in the first round. Of course I want to be winning matches. That's a no-brainer. But I want to be winning them the right way, and I want to be making progress. I want to be present. I want to be competing, playing well and improving, but also I want to have a good outlook on things.

"I thought I did a really good job of improving a few things that weren't working well for me in the previous months. I guess that's all that I can expect from myself right now. Just keep putting that effort in on the court."

A two-time French Open champion, Sharapova has long felt at home on European red clay, but the Russian has been hampered by a left forearm injury for much of the 2018 season, limiting her tournament schedule and causing her to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Champoonships and the Miami Open.

By contrast, Buzarnescu was fresh off a run to a second career WTA final at the J&T Banka Prague Open, where she narrowly lost to Petra Kvitova. Playing Sharapova for the second time this season, she kept the Russian on the ropes in the opening set, rallying from 2-5 to get back on serve at 4-5.

Sharapova dug in her heels from there, breaking the Romanian for the second time and dropping just one more game in the match to advance after 82 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium.

"I didn't think I returned that well in the matches that I've been playing this year. Being a little bit more aggressive. There's a lot of things that everyone can improve, including myself in particular. I just keep building and keep working. I'm not going to expose everything that I work on. But it's not always a secret. You can come to watch any practice that I do.

"A lot of it is to keep that intensity, to keep it at practice, keep getting better, but doing it when you're healthy, not just trying to do some things on one day and not doing them on another. Just being particularly aware of how you're feeling, how your body is doing."

In all, the former World No.1 struck 18 winners to 16 unforced errors, converted four of nine break point opportunities, and allowed just one break against her own serve as she booked a second round clash with Buzarnescu's compatriot, Irina-Camelia Begu.

Begu caused one of the first big upsets of the tournament on Saturday night, knocking out reigning Roland Garros champion and No.5 seed Jelena Ostapenko, 6-3, 6-3.

"She's a big hitter and a big server. I've had good success against her. But I believe it was a three-set match that I played against her in Madrid a few years ago.

"I think she likes these conditions. She likes the ball high. The bounce definitely gets up a little bit more than maybe some of the other events, so I'll have to look out for that."