ROME, Italy - A decade after they last met at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, Maria Sharapova once again secured victory over Dominika Cibulkova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, to reach the third round.
"I was really happy at the end of today's match," she said after the match. "I thought there was a lot of good things to take away from it. The competitiveness and against a player that I thought competed and played really well and played some of her best tennis for a long stretch of time."
Both women have spent the 2018 season in search of their best form but it was Sharapova who was able to dig deepest on Court Centrale, rallying from a set down to defeat the Slovak in exactly two and a half hours.
"I think that was a really good compliment, in a sense. I don't think she's been producing that type of tennis in the last few months, and to come out today and to play that way...you know, I expect that from a lot of players. And I thought I, you know, I delivered quite well. So that makes me happy."
Cibulkova has long managed to hold her own against Sharapova in six previous meetings, winning three - including their most recent encounter at the 2014 Australian Open - and enjoyed a strong start on Wednesday evening as she raced out to a 5-2 lead.
"I'd like to just forget that first set. I was just slow and not with it, really, not seeing the ball well, not adjusting, not making any little adjustment steps, hitting a lot of errors.
"I was like, 'Well, that's got to change. And I've just got to be a little bit more aggressive.'
"I played defense quite a while, and I thought my level was extremely high throughout the match. She kept that up for two and a half hours. I was really happy with the way that I finished."
Rallying from a set down, the Russian struck 41 winners to 40 unforced errors and continued to improve her stats on return, winning 57% of Cibulkova second serve points and breaking serve four times to book a potential Round of 16 clash with either former French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza or Daria Gavrilova.
"Last time I played Muguruza was a few years ago before she became a two-time Grand Slam champion. So, obviously, her level is very different. And she's been consistently playing really well the last couple of years, and I look forward to the challenge.
"And if it's Gavrilova, it's also been a while since we played each other. But I kind of know what to expect from her game."
The win was also her second three-set victory since January and her first time winning back-to-back three setters since last fall at the China Open. A win in the third round will also make it her first Premier 5 quarterfinal since 2015 at this very tournament, which she went on to win over Carla Suárez Navarro in the final.
"I just like the type of tennis that I'm producing against all of the players. And I think that's satisfying to me. At the end of the day, that's the most important thing. I think I've always been a player that's wanted to speak with my actions, and that's more important than anything else, particularly in my career and my sport.
"It feels good to be able to produce even better tennis than they are."