SHENZHEN, China -- Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova of Russia was made to work for a first-round win by former Top 10 player Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland at the Shenzhen Open on Monday, but Sharapova ultimately prevailed 6-2, 7-6(3) to clinch a spot in the second round.
Bacsinszky and Sharapova had played four times previously -- dating back to 2006 -- but the Russian got the upper hand for the fourth time in their five head-to-head affairs, after one hour and 42 minutes of play. Sharapova powered her way past Bacsinszky, blasting 23 winners, nearly five times more than the Swiss starlet had in the match.
Sharapova, a huge fan favorite of the lively Shenzhen crowds, will have to contend with a potential Chinese heroine in her next match, as she will face 17-year-old wild card Wang Xinyu. Wang is a heavily touted up-and-coming hope for China, who won two junior Grand Slam events in doubles last season.
Bacsinszky was the player who claimed the initial lead, holding her opening service, and then breaking Sharapova for 2-0 after the Russian's serve faltered at key moments.
But from that point forward, Sharapova took command of the opening set. Bacsinszky immediately handed the service break back after a game in which she fired three double faults, and Sharapova rolled through the next four games with nary an issue.
The former World No.1 crushed a forehand winner to break Bacsinszky for a 5-2 lead, and polished off the six-game streak with a love hold for the one-set lead. Sharapova finished the first set with seven winners to Bacsinszky's three, and the Swiss player also had 11 unforced errors, including four double faults.
The second set was much more hotly contested. Once more, Bacsinszky claimed the first two games of the set, but Sharapova again broke back straight away. However, this time, the Swiss player moved ahead 3-1 after Sharapova's forehand failed her on break point.
The twosome exchanged three more breaks as the set progressed before Sharapova resoundingly held serve at love for 5-5. The Russian seemed to have regained the upper hand at that point, pounding forehands to claim two break points for a 6-5 lead, but Bacsinszky's guile and grit served her well, and she held on to maintain service parity.
The players moved into a second-set tiebreak, where they traded minibreaks up to the changeover at 3-3. But after the switch of sides, Sharapova dominated. A stunning return forced an error to give the Russian the crucial minibreak at 5-3, and she reached 6-3 after breaking open an exhausting rally with a booming forehand winner.
With three match points in hand, Sharapova fired a delivery that Bacsinszky returned just wide, ending the competitive set and sending the former top-ranked player sailing into the second round of Shenzhen.
More to follow...