MADRID (AP) " Maria Sharapova recovered from a shaky opening to defeat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Sunday, getting off to a good start in her second tournament since returning from a doping ban.
Sharapova took control of the match after struggling early against the 20th-ranked Lucic-Baroni, cruising to victory in the final set after more than two hours on the center court in Madrid.
Sharapova had 16 winners and only 10 unforced errors in her opening-round victory, her fourth since a controversial return to tennis.
The Russian was broken three times in the first set, but only once the rest of the match at the clay-court tournament. She had a total of 19 break opportunities, converting seven of them.
Sharapova said it was "extremely important" to get the opening-round victory.
"The first match of a tournament is always one of the most difficult and it's been a while since I played on this court," she said. "I was just so happy to be back out here, to have the opportunity to play against a really tough opponent and come out and be a winner in three sets."
It was Sharapova's fifth match since a 15-month ban for testing positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open. She played her first tournament after the ban in Stuttgart last month, being eliminated in the semifinals by 17th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France.
The five-time Grand Slam champion and former top-ranked player has been relying on wild cards because she lost her ranking following the doping ban.
"My goal is to play as many matches as I can right now," Sharapova said. "When you are out of the game for a long time you just want to play and want to compete and find yourself in different situations of the match. And like this one, it was extremely tough, not many rallies, she forced me to come out with some of my good tennis and I really had to dig deep."