Sharapova targeting return to the top

Maria Sharapova hits a strong backhand

Maria Sharapova overcame a shaky start in the first round of the Italian Open on Monday to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2.

The Russian tennis player, given a wild card to compete in Rome after returning from a 15-month doping ban, dropped serve three times in a scrappy opening set, but won 6-4, 6-2.

When told by The Times that she had qualified for Wimbledon qualifying after earning enough ranking points to be within the cut on May 29, Sharapova replied: "Will I?"

However the 2004 Wimbledon champion will have her sights on at least the semi-finals on the Rome clay, as that would guarantee a spot in the main SW19 draw.

The five-time grand slam victor will find out if she receives a wildcard entry into this month's French Open later on Tuesday.

The Russian, who is a three-time victor of this event, will take on Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round. "The fact that I'm back and playing three weeks in a row now and three events in a row for me is a big deal".

Sharapova also said that she was unaware of this week's rankings deadline for the Wimbledon qualifying draw.

Maria Sharapova, of Russian Federation, returns the ball to Christina Mchale, of the United States, during the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May 15, 2017.

Sharapova was down a break on three different occasions in the first set but eventually made the necessary adjustments and cruised through the second set to improve her lifetime record to 5-0 against McHale. But Sharapova wasn't focused on that, and will now face Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 on Monday. "She played extremely well and aggressive, so I'm really happy I was still able to win".

Sam Querrey eliminated Lucas Pouille, a semifinalist a year ago, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (8).

The Italian Open organizers were criticized for giving a wild card to Sharapova instead of former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian.

The Laver Cup, a three-day competition modeled on golf's Ryder Cup, will pit a team of six top players from Europe against six of their counterparts from the rest of the world.

"We know Team Europe is incredibly strong on paper, and that Roger and Rafa have both had an unbelievable start to the year", he said.

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