STUTTGART, Germany - Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova battled through another tight opening set at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix - this time against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova - but ultimately prevailed, 7-5, 6-1, to reach the quarterfinals in Suttgart.
Sharapova was playing her second match in two days, and was made to battle from the start against the former World No.8, who had only won one set in their previous six meetings.
"I think after yesterday’s match it was just tough for me to assess the quality of my level and how I played because it was more of an emotional match just to be back after a long time," Sharapova said. "I felt I was able to settle down and get in more rallies and I felt that we had longer rallies today which is great for me because I got a chance to slide, to work on the movement, to get back in position on the things that you kind of miss when you don’t compete."
The Russians traded service holds through the first 11 games, and while Makarova engineered the first break point of the set, Sharapova struck back when it mattered, holding and breaking in quick succession to put herself a set from the quarterfinals.
A three-time champion in Stuttgart, Sharapova remained the aggressor in the second set, striking 29 winners to Makarova's nine, and 19 unforced errors to her countrywoman's eight.
Hitting another nine aces - two shy of Wednesday's total against Roberta Vinci - the five-time Grand Slam champion weathered a shaky service game at 3-1 before running away with the contest, clinching victory after 80 minutes on court.
"Today, I felt that we both served quite well to begin the match and there were not many break opportunities for either of us," Sharapova assessed. "Once the score gets closer and it's 5-4 and 5 all and you have those, I believe she even had a break point at the end of the first set – but I think that is when you have to tap into instinct.
"It’s great to have free points but clay doesn’t always allow for that so much. It’s great to get easy points and free points, but I don’t know - if you hit a winner, that's wonderful but when you’re able to open up the court and then maybe she misses the ball, that doesn’t show on statistics. So, it’s always a very thin line. I don’t know if aces and faults always show the true colors of how you perform."
Standing between Sharapova and a spot in the semifinals is dangerous qualifier Anett Kontaveit. The Estontian youngster is fresh off reaching her first WTA final two weeks ago at the inaugural Ladies Open Biel Bienne, and earned her first top 10 victory on Wednesday over reigning Roland Garros winner Garbiñe Muguruza in three sets.
"There’s nothing like being in a tournament...I think the adrenaline of just being excited and looking forward to competing and the challenge of every opponent and the difference in the play of each opponent, I’m mentally excited for it," Sharapova said. "I’m in the locker room preparing and I'm listening to music, I’m reading my book but I’m already visualizing the match and it’s just a great feeling to have. You kind of forget about anything that you feel in your body despite not playing for 15 months."