French Open champion Maria Sharapova was given a full workout in her 2013 clay court debut before the Russian top seed outlasted Czech Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 at the Porsche Grand Prix on Thursday.
Sharapova, who is also the title holder in Stuttgart, laboured for 3 hours 9 minutes before clinching a second-round victory over the 25th-ranked Safarova on her fifth match point.
“The first match of the clay court season is always tough. It’s nothing like practising,” Sharapova said. “I knew this was going to be a tough game, so I am glad to get through.”
China’s Li Na, the second-seeded 2011 winner of the Paris Grand Slam, spent less than half the time on court in a 6-1, 6-2 win over Croatian qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in what was also her season debut on the surface.
The Porsche Grand Prix is the first major buildup for the French Open. The four top seeds had byes into the second round.
Third-seeded German Angelique Kerber won 6-0, 6-4 over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but tournament number four Sara Errani of Italy, the losing 2012 French Open finalist, crashed against American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1.
Sharapova kick-started her 2012 clay campaign with the Stuttgart title en route to completing a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros, but had to fight hard Thursday.
Sharapova won the opening set thanks to a ninth-game break but gave away the second to Safarova in the tiebreak after saving set points in a fight back from 5-3 to 5-5.
Her first serve ration steadily improved and Sharapova never looked back after breaking for 4-2 in the final set. She wrapped up matters on the fifth match point with a little help from the net cord.DPA