Madrid: Four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova made light work of the Czech Republic’s Klara Koukalova to ease into the second round of the Madrid Open 6-1, 6-2 on Sunday.
Sharapova claimed her first title of the year in Stuttgart two weeks ago and continued her return to form after a difficult start to the year to seal victory in little over an hour.
Last year’s finalist in Madrid will next face unseeded American Christina McHale in the second round.
It was a more difficult afternoon for fifth seed Petra Kvitova as she need a final set tie-break to overcome Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7/4).
The former Wimbledon champion looked well on course for the second round after racing through the opening set but was then broken four times in the second as the world No 27 levelled the match.
Both women were more stable on serve in the decider as it went to a tie-break after just one break apiece and Kvitova eventually had too much to set up a meeting with American Varvara Lepchenko.
Elsewhere, 11th seed Ana Ivanovic overcame Madison Keys in straight sets 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), while another American, Sloane Stephens, beat Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to also reach the last 32.
Men’s world No 1 Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, admitted surprise defeats to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro in recent weeks have shaken his confidence as he looks to defend his Masters title this week.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion has appeared almost unbeatable once he hits the red clay of Europe in recent years but comes into Madrid having lost at the Monte Carlo Masters for only the third time in his career and for the first time at the Barcelona Open since 2003.
“Losing always creates doubts, anyone who tells you the opposite is lying,” he said on Sunday.
“There is no benefit in losing. The easiest thing is to keep winning because everything comes naturally without thinking.
“When you lose you think more about where to move on the court, where to hit the ball, but that is what has happened and as I have said various times you cannot win in Monte Carlo or Barcelona 12 times.
“To lose twice in the quarter-finals is normal. Perhaps what has been abnormal is what has happened in recent years.”
Nadal could even lose out on top spot in the rankings this week should he lose before the quarter-finals and Novak Djokovic win the title for a second time.
However, the Spaniard is hoping the energy of the home crowd will provoke a return to form.
“I feel a bit better and I am desperate to play in this tournament because it is always special for me,” he said. “The energy this tournament gives me is a bit different and hopefully you will see that on court.”
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray also returns to action in the Spanish capital this week after nearly a month off following Great Britain’s Davis Cup defeat to Italy.
First round: Ana Ivanovic (SRB x11) bt Madison Keys (USA) 6-1, 7-6 (7/4)
Sloane Stephens (USA x16) bt Monica Niculescu (ROM) 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
Jie Zheng (CHN) bt Mariana Duque (COL) 7-6 (7/5), 6-2
Varvara Lepchenko (USA) bt Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
Petra Kvitova (CZE x5) bt Sorana Cirstea (ROM) 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7/4)
Maria Sharapova (RUS x8) bt Klara Zakopalova (CZE) 6-1, 6-2