ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova thrilled her home crowd with a hard-fought 6-0, 6-4 win over Daria Gavrilova at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, booking an all-Russian second round with No.3 seed Daria Kasatkina.
"I am very pleased to visit St. Petersburg for the first time in my life," she said after the match through translation. "I honestly wanted to come here, but there was no possibility to come here earlier. I am glad that the Russian people cheered for me. I know when I play at home, I am strongly and warmly supported by the fans. For me it means a lot to win a match in homeland after so many years."
Though the scoreline looks all Sharapova, the veteran was made to battle through a 48-minute first set, and rallied from a break down in the second to ease past the Aussie after one hour and 47 minutes in Sibur Arena.
"This is a completely different tournament. We play indoors, and the court is much slower than the one in Australia with its heat. All these changes are nothing new for me, so I got used to this, as I have a lot of experience of travelling like that."
Playing in St. Petersburg for the first time, the Russian traveled from Melbourne - where she dethroned defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki en route to the second week - made the most of her visit to the seaport city, visiting the Hermitage Museum and the Mariinsky Theater ahead of her opening round match.
"Usually at tournaments, I concentrate only on tennis, but since I am in St. Petersburg for the first time, I had to have a cultural tour. I visited opera and I really liked it. We had dinner, visited the Hermitage, it was great. I hope that I will have a few more days to see something else."
Across the net was Gavrilova, who was born in Moscow before moving to Melbourne, a tough opponent who beat Sharapova in their first meeting back in 2015. Though she came to St. Petersburg without a main draw singles win in 2019, she played Sharapova tough through the opening set - particularly in an 18-minute second game that lasted nine deuces.
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"Most matches against her are very difficult physically. I was ready for this. The court is slow here, and it suits her game. I managed to win the first set, 6-0, but you saw many games took a long time, especially the second game, which was very important."
Sharapova ultimately maintained her edge in that game, taking the first set without losing a game.
The second featured more intense rallies and a chance for Gavrilova to level the match as she took a 4-2 lead. The former World No.1 responded in kind, breaking serve twice more to find herself serving for the match.
Gavrilova wouldn't go away so quickly, earning a break point in the last game and playing another long rally, only to put a forehand wide to bring the game back to deuce.
Sharapova triumphed two points later to the delight of the St. Petersburg crowd, who will likely be in full attendence for her next match against Kasatkina, who won the Kremlin Cup at the end of 2018 to make her Top 10 debut.
"The fans know that we are going to fight. I hope we will play a high-quality match, and I hope fans will support both of us. She achieved a lot last season, and it's never easy to play against her. She is showing high quality tennis, and I am pretty sure on Wednesday she will be aiming to show her best."