ROME (AP) — Three tournaments into her return from a 15-month doping ban, Maria Sharapova has already gained enough rankings points to enter qualifying for Wimbledon.
The five-time Grand Slam winner took advantage of another wild card and overcame a shaky opening set to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Italian Open on Monday.
The win earned Sharapova enough points to enter the top 200 of the rankings and earn at least a spot in qualifying at the All England Club.
“Winning matches will get me places, so if that’s where it got me today, then I will take it,” said Sharapova, who entered this week at No. 211. “The fact that I’m back and playing three weeks in a row now … for me is a big deal.”
Sharapova will learn on Tuesday if she will be granted a wild card for the French Open this month, with Roland Garros organizers planning an announcement on Facebook.
“I won’t be following it live. I will be focused on my match, as I’m playing tomorrow,” Sharapova said, adding that she would accept a qualifying wild card. “Nothing is a disappointment after being away from the game for 15 months.”
Venus Williams, the 1999 Rome champion, defeated Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
In men’s action, Olympic silver medalist Juan Martin del Potro rallied past Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Dimitrov double-faulted to hand del Potro the key break in the third set and then smashed his racket on the clay.
Del Potro will next face Kyle Edmund of Britain, who beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-3, 6-4.
Also, David Goffin rallied past qualifier Thomaz Bellucci 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4, and Tomas Berdych required five set points to close out the opening set in a 7-6 (7), 6-4 win over Australian Open quarterfinalist Mischa Zverev.
Berdych matched his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, with 599 career victories. Only 24 players have earned 600 or more wins.
Sam Querrey eliminated Lucas Pouille, a semifinalist last year, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (8).
Sharapova was broken by McHale in the opening game and went on to drop serve twice more in the first set before finding her groove.
Tournament organizers were criticized for giving a wild card to Sharapova instead of former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian. But fans cheered and held up signs of encouragement for Sharapova, a three-time Rome champion.
Sharapova’s next opponent will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. Sharapova could face top-ranked Angelique Kerber in the third round.
Sharapova edged Lucic-Baroni in three tough sets in Madrid last week but then lost to Eugenie Bouchard.
At the start, McHale was able to run down balls in the corners and make Sharapova play extra shots, which she often missed.
But once the second set began, Sharapova was in total control and began to resemble the player who won the trophy at the Foro Italico in 2011, 2012 and 2015.
Still, there were signs of rustiness, like when Sharapova dumped a first serve into the red clay before the net while attempting to close out the match. McHale went on to win that point and game but Sharapova broke the American’s serve in the next game to end it.
Sharapova led 21-7 in winners and committed 22 unforced errors to McHale’s 25.