World No 4 Maria Sharapova powered through her first-round match at the US$5.4 million (Dh19.8m) China Open on Sunday, but faces a tricky opponent at the next stage in Beijing.
The Russian beat Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-1 in her opening match of the tournament, and will meet world No 34 Elina Svitolina in the second round.
The Ukrainian beat world No 8 Angelique Kerber earlier this week at the WTA Wuhan Open to make it to the semi-finals of the premier-ranking event, and will have her confidence sky-high.
But Sharapova will go into the game taking positives from her showing in the Chinese capital.
The 27-year-old crashed out in Wuhan with a demoralising two-set defeat against Timea Bacsinszky in the third round, but she looked more assured at Beijing’s Olympic Park.
She traded breaks with her opponent twice midway through the first set, before breaking again with the scores 5-4 in her favour to take the opener.
Kanepi won only the fourth game of the second set, as Sharapova took command and wrapped up the match in 90 minutes.
The French Open champion made six double faults in the match, which was the only stain on an otherwise dominant performance.
The victory was her fourth against her 29-year-old opponent in all meetings between the pair, but Sharapova said she had to battle hard for the win.
“I thought I played a difficult opponent, someone that I’ve had trouble against in the past,” she said.
“I knew it was a challenging first-round opponent and I thought I handled that quite well considering I didn’t have a great result last week.”
Elsewhere in Beijing, Sara Errani became the first seed to tumble as Kurumi Nara of Japan sealed a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
The 11th seed was hoping for a good run in Beijing to improve her slim chance of making next month’s WTA Finals in Singapore, which features the top eight women’s players.
Venus Williams eased through her first-round tie against British rising star Heather Watson 6-3, 6-1.
But the American could also face a tough battle in the next round, as she is set to play Caroline Garcia if the French rising star wins her game against China’s Zhang Shuai.
The 20-year-old dumped Williams out of the Wuhan tournament in the first round last week.
Also in Beijing, 2011 US Open winner Samantha Stosur finally ended her miserable run in China, overcoming Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4, 6-2.
The Australian world No 20 had crashed out of both the Guangzhou Open and the Wuhan Open in her opening match earlier this month.
Other first-round victors on Sunday included Roberta Vinci (d Yaroslava Shvedova), Ekaterina Makarova (d Garbine Muguruza), Polona Hercog (d Karolina Pliskova) and Andrea Petkovic (d Monica Niculescu).
Simona Halep eased on through, as well, beating Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova 6-1, 6-4.
The China Open will reach its climax on October 5.
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