Taking advantage of another wildcard upon her return from a doping ban, Maria Sharapova overcame a shaky opening set to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4 6-2 in the first round of the Italian Open.

Sharapova was broken in the opening game and went on to drop serve twice more in the first set before finding her groove.

A three-time champion in Rome, Sharapova is still rediscovering her form after returning to the WTA Tour following a 15-month ban.

Tournament organisers were criticised for giving a wildcard to Sharapova instead of former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian but fans cheered and held up signs of encouragement for Sharapova.

Sharapova's next opponent will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova 7-5 4-6 6-3 and she 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, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the wildcards being handed out to Sharapova.

With her ranking at 211 in the world, Sharapova does not qualify directly for the top tournaments.

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.