Former French Open women’s champion Francesca Schiavone defeated fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta 7-5, 6-1 on Wednesday to book a clash with second-seeded Maria Sharapova at the ATP Masters-WTA BNP Paribas Open.

Schiavone, the 2010 Roland Garros winner, improved to 5-2 against Pennetta, who has only recently returned from wrist surgery.

The all-Italian clash was among 16 first-round women’s matches on the opening day of the combined ATP Masters and WTA hard court tournament, in which the 32 men’s and 32 women’s seeds enjoy first-round byes.

Defending champion Victoria Azarenka is the top women’s seed.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who needed just 71 minutes to beat Czech Andrea Hlavackova 6-3, 6-1.

Kuznetsova, winner of the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open, is on the comeback trail after a knee injury that put her on crutches for two months, followed by weeks of rehabilitation that saw her miss every tournament after Wimbledon last year.

Once ranked as high as second in the world, Kuznetsova dropped to 85th but has climbed back to 46th with quarterfinal appearances at Sydney and in the Australian Open.

U.S. wild card Maria Sanchez, ranked 112th in the world, defeated Russian Olga Puchkova 6-3, 6-3.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and defending champion Roger Federer are the top two seeds in a men’s field that also includes Scotland’s Andy Murray and Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

It's the first tournament to feature the ‘big four’ of men's tennis since last year's Wimbledon, and the spotlight will be squarely on Nadal as he plays his fourth tournament — and his first on hard courts — since ending a seven-month injury layoff in February.

The results: WTA BNP Paribas Open: First round: Mallory Burdette bt Jill Craybas 6-3, 6-1; Ksenia Pervak bt Zheng Jie 6-1, 6-2; Silvia Soler bt Vania King 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-1; Svetlana Kuznetsova bt Andrea Hlavackova 6-3, 6-1; Shahar Peer bt Marina Erakovic 6-3, 6-4; Anabel Medina Garrigues bt Casey Dellacqua 6-1, 6-3; Francesca Schiavone bt Flavia Pennetta 7-5, 6-1; Christina McHale bt Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3, 6-4. — AFP

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