STUTTGART, Germany - When defending champion Maria Sharapova takes on top seed Agnieszka Radwanska at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix this afternoon there will be more than just a place in the semifinals at stake.
In addition to keeping her hopes of winning a third consecutive title at the Porsche Arena, Sharapova is battling to keep her place in the Top 10. Currently ranked No.9, and with 470 points to defend from last year's triumph, the Russian must reach at least the semifinals to avoid dropping out of the Top 10 for the first time since March 2011.
Following her marathon opening match, Sharapova was relatively untroubled last time out, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 64 63, to improve her record at the Porsche Arena to 11-0 and also gain revenge for a recent defeat to her compatriot.
"I faced Anastasia in Paris and lost that match in three sets, so I was really keen to try and win this time and was really happy that I could win in two sets," Sharapova said. "The first few matches are always tough because you're trying to find your range on your groundstrokes and movement - the transition from hard to clay is always tough."
Radwanska, meanwhile, who as one of the Top 4 seeds received a first round bye, begun her challenge on Thursday, brushing aside Roberta Vinci, 63 62.
Historically, Sharapova has held the edge in previous meetings with the Pole, winning eight of their 10 encounters. The most recent of these came 18 months ago, at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, where the Russian prevailed in a mini-classic during the round robin stage and Radwanska is looking forward to renewing their rivalry.
"It's always a challenge to play Maria, and it's a challenge I enjoy, especially as we haven't played for quite some time" Radwanska said after her win over Vinci. "Of course it's difficult to play her here because she plays so well on this court."