Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova made short work of her second round opponent at the Rome International clay court event on Tuesday, thrashing Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-1.
Men’s world number four Andy Murray had a very different experience as he was made to work in an error-strewn match before seeing off Belgian veteran Xavier Malisse 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
Having said on Sunday that women’s tennis had improved its strength in depth in recent years and that the old days of breezing through the first couple of rounds were long gone, Sharapova disproved her own claims.
Her Russian compatriot was never in the match and only managed to hold serve once in each set.
Sharapova was at her ruthless best and took all five of her break-point opportunities, saving the only two she faced.
Makarova also paid for a poor first serve percentage of less than one in two, meaning she was often under pressure.
And it was far easier for the seventh seed than a week ago when the pair met in Madrid.
“I played her last week in Madrid and we split sets and I won in three sets,” said Sharapova.
“It was a pretty tough and long match and I certainly wanted to get the job done faster today. It was a pretty short match and that will definitely help me going into the later rounds on clay.”
‘I’m hoping to get better’
Murray was largely out of sorts in a topsy-turvy second round match that ebbed and flowed until the Scot held serve for a 4-1 lead in the final set.
The world number four got the better of three early breaks in the opening set to take control and he sealed it with another break when a backhand winner down the line landed right on the tape.
But his Belgian opponent hit back in the second set and secured a second break and 4-1 lead with some positive net play before serving out the set.
At 1-1 in the decider there were three successive breaks that left Murray with his nose in front and despite several wobbles, he served out the match with an ace.
The Scot said he had things to work on ahead of the French Open later this month.
“I’m happy with the way I was hitting the ball but tactically and in terms of concentration I’m hoping to get better,” he said.
“I just need to play every point like it’s the last one and then I’ll give myself a chance to win matches.”
Fifth seed Robin Soderling was also involved in a titanic tussle with Spaniard Fernando Verdasco before reaching the third round with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 success.
Verdasco took the first set and then raced into a 40-0 lead when serving for the match at 5-4 in the second.
But the Swede dug in and turned it around to claim the set and race into a 3-0 lead in the decider.
There was one more twist, though, as Verdasco pulled it back to 3-3 but Soderling gritted his teeth and saw it home.
In other matches, seventh seed Tomas Berdych had little difficulty in dispatching Argentine Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-2 in the second round.
French 16th seed Richard Gasquet is also in the third round after thrashing Russian qualifier Igor Andreev 6-1, 6-2.
Spanish ninth seed Nicolas Almagro had few problems in his first round clash against Italian wild card Simone Bolelli, winning 6-0, 7-5.
But 14th seed Stanislas Wawrinka was made to battle all the way to reach the second round as he overcame another Italian wild card in Fabio Fognini 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.
Joining Sharapova in the women’s third round was current world number two Francesca Schiavone.
The French Open champion had few problems in seeing off American qualifier Christina McHale 6-3, 6-1.
It wasn’t a good day for Asians as Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm lost 7-5, 6-2 to Czech Lucie Safarova and Chinese lucky loser Zheng Jie was beaten by Italian wild card Alberta Brianti 6-4, 7-5. — AFP