Maria Sharapova makes winning start as she targets fourth Italian Open title

Three-time champion Maria Sharapova began her Italian Open campaign with a hard-fought three-set win over Australia’s Ashleigh Barty on Tuesday.

Sharapova, who made her first major quarter-final since returning from a drugs ban at the Madrid Open last week, came through 7-5 3-6 6-2 against 16th-seeded Barty on the Next Gen Arena.

The 2011, 2012 and 2015 champion will next take on Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova for the seventh time overall, having split six career meetings.

In other matches, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber defeated Kazakh qualifier Zarina Diyas 6-2 7-6 (8-6) and 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina beat Australian qualifier Ajla Tomljanovic 6-0 6-4.

Timea Babos ended Sara Errani’s hopes on home soil with a 6-3 7-6 (8-6) win, while Greek rising star Maria Sakkari fought off Kiki Bertens for a 6-2 4-6 6-3 victory.

There were also wins for Danielle Collins, Elena Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

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