Maria Sharapova survived a sticky start to move into the second round of the WTA Madrid Open on Monday with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania.
The Russian, who won the French Open on clay last year, brought a 16-match winning streak on the surface into Madrid and was strongly favored to coast past a player who has been dogged by knee injuries.
However, she struggled at times in the first set before finding her range in the second.
It had all been about adjusting to the dirt surface and the particular demands of playing in Madrid, Sharapova said.
“I feel like in the last week I’ve really had to adjust to the different circumstances and the environment a bit,” she said.
The stakes are high for Sharapova in Spain because she could regain the world No. 1 spot from Serena Williams if the results go her way.
Williams won through in straight sets on Sunday and the two could face off in the championship match at the end of the week.
Another former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus had a tough battle, but the third-seeded player came through in two tiebreaks 7-6 (10/8), 7-6 (7/3) against the in-form Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who won the Portuguese Open on Saturday.
Both Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and China’s Li Na crashed out on Sunday, and Monday saw the end for Australia’s Samantha Stosur as she lost 7-6 (9/7), 6-2 to home hope Carla Suarez Navarro.
The 2011 US Open champion was competitive in the first set, but her game unraveled and she was outplayed by the Spaniard.
Poland’s fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska also bowed out, beaten comprehensively 6-3, 6-1 in the second round by fast rising 19-year-old Briton Laura Robson.
Robson will play either another former world No. 1, Ana Ivanovic, or South African qualifier Chanelle Scheepers in the third round. Sixth-seeded German Angelique Kerber came safely through with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Alize Cornet of France.
In early action in the men’s tournament, Japan’s 14th seed Kei Nishikori was too good for Jurgen Melzer of Austria, winning at a canter 6-3, 6-2.
In the women’s doubles, Taiwan’s Chan Hao-ching and Olga Govortsova of Belarus defeated Swedish pair Sofia Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson 6-7 (2/7), 7-5, 10-8.
Additional reporting by staff writer