Maria Sharapova, a 3-time winner at the Rome Open has booked her spot in the 2nd round and is all set to take on Croat veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni for a place in the 3rd round.
The Russian managed to record a 5th successive victory over Christina McHale in straight sets 6-4, 6-2. She will be going into the second round with a huge burden lifted off her shoulders when her return to Wimbledon was guaranteed with the win in Rome and earned her a place in the qualifying event.
Even this scenario will be irrelevant if she manages to reach the semi-finals in Rome, which would put her within the top 100 rankings and get her into the main draw for Wimbledon directly. The French Tennis Federation (FFT), however, is yet to announce their decision today on whether to grant her any sort of wild card for the upcoming French Open.
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Speaking of Lucic-Baroni, the 16th seed at the tournament, she came into the Eternal City with a commendable 17-9 win-loss record. Her biggest achievement so far in 2017 was reaching her 1st Grand Slam semi-finals in 18yrs at the Australian Open. The 35-yr old Croat also made it to the semi-finals in Acapulco, the quarter-finals in Miami and semi-finals in Charleston. The 2-time Grand Slam semi-finalist managed to edge past her tough opponent Lucie Safarova, former world number 5, in a tricky 3-setter 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the 1st round in Rome.
Sharapova and Lucic-Baroni have met twice in their careers, and both meetings have taken place on clay courts. In their first meeting at the 1st round of the French Open 2011, Sharapova emerged victorious in straight sets 6-3, 6-0. And their latest encounter was at 1st round of the Mutua Madrid Open last week where Sharapova fought back from a set down to dispatch off Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Given all this, the 2-time French Open Champion would try to continue playing the high level of tennis against the 16th seed in what is expected to be one of the hard-hitting matches at the courts of Foro Italico.