ROME – Three-time champion Maria Sharapova came back from a set down to defeat Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday and advance to the third round of the Italian Open.
After a three-set win over 18th-ranked Australian Ashleigh Barty in the first round, Sharapova needed two and a half hours to overcome the Slovak world No. 34 in a match filled with hard-fought rallies and loud grunts on virtually every shot.
Cibulkova struck the first blow, taking the first set against an opponent who was sloppy with her footwork and made a high number of unforced errors.
But the diminutive Slovak’s winning percentage on first-serve points dropped from 79 percent in the first set to 55 percent in the second set and just 53 percent in the third, as Sharapova put her stamp on the match with her powerful return of serve and ground strokes.
“I was really happy at the end of today’s match,” the 40th-ranked Sharapova was quoted as saying on the WTA’s Web site. “I thought there was a lot of good things to take away from it. The competitiveness and against a player that I thought competed and played really well and played some of her best tennis for a long stretch of time.”
It was the Russian’s fourth victory in seven matches against Cibulkova, an opponent she also defeated a decade ago at the Italian Open.
Next up for Sharapova on Thursday will be either third-ranked Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza or 24th-ranked Australian Daria Gavrilova.
The 31-year-old Sharapova, who is trying to get back to the top of her sport after serving a doping suspension in 2016-2017, is the second-most accomplished active women’s clay-court player after Serena Williams.
She is already a two-time French Open champion and is trying to get her game in shape for another run at tennis’ clay-court Grand Slam tournament, which gets under way on May 27.