ROME, Italy - Three-time champion Maria Sharapova made a winning return to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Monday, seeing off American Christina McHale in the opening round, 6-4, 6-2.
From a break down in the opening set, Sharapova ran off six consecutive games to put herself in a commanding position for the one hour, 35-minute victory.
Striking three times the amount of winners as her American opponent (21-7), Sharapova earned herself a total of 14 break points in the match and converted on seven.
"The conditions are quite different to Madrid, so I felt like the adjustment was really important," Sharapova said. "I also played a different type of opponent that stood back a few feet behind the baseline, makes you play another ball. It certainly took a few more games than I would've liked to get used to but once I did, I felt like I took care of the second set quite well."
Sharapova didn't have the match entirely her own way, however, as McHale was up a break three times in the opening set.
The American, looking to win just her second-ever set against the five-time Grand Slam champion in their fifth career meeting, led 3-1 in the first set and later responded to being pegged back to 3-3 with another tough break to lead 4-3.
However, Sharapova started to put the pressure on the World No.58 from there, as she hit back for her third break of the set before taking her first lead of the match with a hold to 15.
The Russian rolled on from there, winning the next four games to not only claim a one-set lead, but lead by a break of serve in the second.
McHale made her last stand late in the set, breaking the Sharapova delivery for the first time to stay alive down 2-5, but succumbed a short while later and surrendered the match on a double fault.
The win is Sharapova's fourth straight on clay against the American, as they've now played twice in Rome and twice at the Mutua Madrid Open in Madrid.
"At this point, it's week-to-week. I certainly have expectations of myself," Sharapova said. "When you've accomplished things and you've won big events and you've been No.1 in the world, you know that feeling. You know how good it feels and you know what you work for, so I would love to experience those moments again.
"Every week is important and I treat every match...I might've not played my best tennis but I set up an opportunity to play another match, and hopefully improve in that match, and that's what I need."
Sharapova will face No.16 seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round for the second consecutive week, as the Croatian rallied from 5-1 down in the opening set to defeat Lucie Safarova in a three-set tussle, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.