ROME (AP) Taking advantage of another wild card upon her return from a doping ban, Maria Sharapova overcame a shaky opening set to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 Monday 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 last month following a 15-month ban.
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.
Sharapova's next opponent will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. 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 wild cards being handed out to Sharapova.
With her ranking at No. 211, 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.
Still, there were signs of rustiness, like when Sharapova hit 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.
In men's action, ninth-seeded David Goffin rallied past qualifier Thomaz Bellucci 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4, and 12th-seeded 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.
Also, Sam Querrey eliminated Lucas Pouille, a semifinalist last year, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (8).
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf