MALLORCA, Spain - Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova won her first match since February at the Mallorca Open, saving two set points to survive a surging Viktoria Kuzmova, 7-6(8), 6-0.
"It's my first win in about three or four months," Sharapova said during her on-court interview. "It's great to be here in Mallorca; what a great place to train and have a warm-up tournament. It's been amazing for all of us here, and it's just been nice to experience it for the first time."
The former World No.1 hadn't played a match since pulling out of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, missing the Sunshine Swing and clay court season - including Roland Garros - due to an ongoing shoulder injury. Taking a wildcard into Mallorca, Sharapova showed marked improvement as the match wore on, securing victory after 89 minutes on Pista Central.
"It's always nice to get a victory," she continued after the match. "It's been a while since I've been out there, so it was good to put down a few things I've worked on, put the arms into action. There's still a lot to work on and improve, but I had to start somewhere."
Across the net was Kuzmova, who has made big strides on the tour largely in Sharapova's absence, earning a career-high ranking of World No.43 after reaching the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarterfinals and the Round of 16 at the Mutua Madrid Open.
"I was just really looking forward to coming back and playing a match. You've done so much work, and a lot of it is a grind. So much of your focus is on the injury and trying to make it better, so it was nice to let that go and get back to business, which I've done since I was very young. It was nice to have that feeling back."
Armed with a big serve and a formidable ground game, the Slovak rallied from a slow start to break Sharapova off a netcord return winner and struck a total 15 winners in the opening set as she pushed Sharapova to the brink, breaking once more to serve for it in the 12th game.
Sharapova gamely broke back and made it through a tense tie-break that forced her to save two set points on her own serve and eventually take the Sudden Death on her third opportunity.
"In tennis, there's always something around the corner. When you're coming back from injury, it's hard to think from that perspective. Of course, I want to perform well at big tournaments, but I needed to start somewhere. I haven't played much on grass in the last few years, so it's about playing, working, improving a few things, and getting the rust off. I wasn't able to work on my serve in a few months, so that's important, too."
With the first set in hand, the Russian went from strength to strength as she allowed the Slovak just six points in the second, breaking serve three times to advance into the second round.
In all she struck 16 winners to 13 unforced errors - two in the second set - and converted five of seven break point opportunities.
Kuzmova, by constrast, didn't hit any winners after the first set, making 10 unforced errors in the second.
Up next for the 2004 Wimbledon champion is a possible clash with top seed and longtime rival Angelique Kerber, who takes on Belgian qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure later in the day.
"It always brings incredible memories," Sharapova said of the All England Club. "They're memories I'll hold for the rest of my life, and as the years go on, they become more valuable because you understand the triumph and what you achieved as a young girl. In the present, we don't realize things and years have to pass to understand the effect it has on you. It was an incredible moment, but I'd like to have the perspective where I go into a tournament hungry for more."