For those worried Maria Sharapova's early Grand Slam ousters of late would carry over to Roland Garros, the seventh-seeded Russian largely assuaged those concerns Monday.
In a dominant all-around performance, Sharapova dispatched of countrywoman Ksenia Pervak 6-1, 6-2 to win her 11th consecutive opening-round match at the French Open. She has taken 16 straight first-round matches in Grand Slam tournaments overall.
Sharapova needed only 61 minutes to dispatch of Pervak, a 22-year-old Russian who has struggled to advance out of the first round in France. Pervak's first loss at Roland Garros was handed to her by Sharapova in 2010 in a straight-sets romp.
Not all that much has changed in the last four years.
Dominant from the outset, Sharapova particularly overwhelmed Pervak on her first serve. She hit four aces and got her opponent off-balance, leading to easy winners and quick service games. Sharapova won a whopping 92 percent of her first-serve points.
If there were any issues, it was with the accuracy of those serves. Sharapova got only 25 of her 42 first-serve attempts in play, which helped give Pervak whatever little momentum she could conjure. Pervak won more than half of Sharapova's second-serve attempts and seemed far more comfortable when the match began slowing down.
She could never bring the match close enough to make anyone consider an upset possibility. Despite her accuracy troubles on the serve and eight unforced errors, Sharapova dominated the first set 6-1. Live Tennis' Twitter feed had an ominous outlook after the first set:
Makings of a bad day at the office for Ksenia Pervak - Sharapova romps to the first set 6-1— Live Tennis (@livetennis) May 26, 2014
Pervak had issues of her own serving accurately. She hit four double faults in the first set and lost on three-quarters of her serve points overall. Sharapova won three break points to put Pervak on the ropes in less than a half hour.
The second set was slightly more difficult, but slightly was the operative word. Sharapova did not lose a first-serve point the entire set, found a better balance with her ball placement and began attacking when she sensed the possibility of a quick match. Rarely a player who crashes toward the net, Sharapova won all three of the chances she took in the second set and five of her six tries overall.
Pervak held serve for two games and seemed calmer than her nervy opening, but it was to little avail. As expected, the massive chasm between the pair's skill level was apparent, leaving little more than a fight toward respectability. Pervak's better second set is a promising outcome—just not enough to bring any thoughts of an upset.
Sharapova, who once famously called herself a "cow on ice" playing on clay, has been dominant on the surface this season. She opened the clay season with 12 straight victories, including tournament wins at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and Madrid Open. Ana Ivanovic pulled a surprising upset at the Italian Open to snap that streak, but that's done little to quell Sharapova's enthusiasm about her progress.
"I had great preparation," Sharapova told reporters at her pre-tournament press conference. "I had two great tournaments and had really tough matches, easier matches. I think a lot has been thrown at me in the last few weeks in all the matches I have played, and I think that's great for coming into a big tournament like this."
Sharapova has made consecutive French Open finals, winning in 2012. After years of struggles, Roland Garros is now actually her best major from an overall winning percentage standpoint. She's made at least the semis every year since 2011.
To keep that run alive, Sharapova will have to halt a streak that has come to define her to some. Top-seeded Serena Williams has defeated Sharapova 15 times in a row heading into France, where both women share the top half of the bracket. Sharapova will have to snap that skid—which is nearly a decade-running now—if she hopes to make the semifinals.
"I actually never, never, never look at it,'' Williams said of the draw, per Jim Caple of ESPNW.com. "I just either wait for you to tell me or someone, and then I go from there. I just take it one day at a time.''
It's unlikely Sharapova can say the same. In many ways, she and Williams have shared a similar path: a meteoric rise to the top of the tennis world, an injury-riddled fall to obscurity and then a re-ascent back into the national conversation.
For Sharapova, beating Williams is the only criticism of her comeback. While Williams has continually held court against her supposed rival, Sharapova has had to deal with the increasing chatter of domination. Nowhere was that more prevalent than last season's French Open final, when Williams defeated Sharapova in straight sets.
It was the 10th time in their last 11 meetings Sharapova didn't even force a tie-breaking set. If her play Monday and throughout the clay-court season is any indication, though, this is far from a typical Maria Sharapova.
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