You will be hard pressed to find Maria Sharapova ever dropping the ball in the aesthetics department. Court Phillippe Chatrier was far from occupied, but even then there was a familiar ring to the applause that broke out as the Russian diva made her way to the court in a quiet shade of rusty pink. In stark contrast, Ksenia Pervak walked out in a full body battle fatigue intent on taking the fight to her well heeled opponent.
In the end, it was only a useful early workout for the well-fitted Sharapova, who needed just about an hour to dismiss her opponent 6-1, 6-2 and advance to the second round.
Pervak had her best year in 2011 when she made the finals in Baku, before taking the only WTA title of her career at Tashkent in September. But from a high of 37, she is down now to 160 in the rankings. And as soon as play started, Maria held out a mirror to remind her opponent of the work needed to regain some of that lost ground.
Sharapova unleashed her powerful forehand – first a cross court winner and then one up the line - to deliver an early blow to Pervak’s hopes. Serving for a 3-0 lead, Maria faltered just enough to allow her opponent regain the break, but a double fault from Pervak in the next game helped her take a 3-1 lead.
The world No. 8 was packing a punch on her strokes, spicing them with her trademark grunt, using her forehand to push Pervak nearly 10 feet behind the baseline. With the 22-year-old from Moscow constantly on the defensive, Maria just had to wait for the short ball to punish it. Pervak needed to force the pace and attack Maria on the backhand side, but she was constantly battling for position to have any hope of really influencing the rallies.
The second set proved no different, though Pervak did show some fight early on. The 22-year-old held serve for the first time in the match – to love – to start the set on a positive note. But Sharapova responded in kind, holding to love before breaking serve in the third game to take firm control of the match.
Pervak’s last stand really came in the fifth game. The game stretched to deuce and Sharapova needed a third break point to break her opponent’s residual spirit and serve to take a 4-1 lead as she marched relentlessly toward an easy victory.
Pervak did hold serve one more time in the seventh game, but that was only to delay the inevitable. Maria served out the victory in the next game, when Pervak failed to return a serve wide off her backhand.
Sharapova had 17 winners to just four from Pervak, but more telling was the fact that Pervak was only winning a little more than half her first serve points and threw in five double faults to compound her misery.
The first match was admittedly easy for Sharapova, but she would know that harder battles await her on her road to glory. After all, the marauding Serena Williams is lurking in the same neighbourhood as Maria in this year’s draw.Published 26 May 2014, 17:04 IST