Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sharapova's Smashing; Russian Star Rolls in Debut at Amelia

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sharapova's Smashing; Russian Star Rolls in Debut at Amelia

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF ELLIOTT

Maria Sharapova, making her first Bausch & Lomb Championships appearance, gave the setting at Amelia Island Plantation a nod of approval Tuesday night.

On the court, Sharapova's game gained the same such approval from fans and her opponent, as the world's fifth-ranked player overwhelmed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-1, 6-3 on Stadium Court at Amelia Island Plantation.

"It was great," Sharapova said when asked for her first impressions of the venue. "I love the stadium. I love how quaint everything is. The trees around the stadium - I don't think any of the players get to see much of that during the year, and it's kind of homey. It's only a 3 1/2-hour drive from my house in Sarasota, so it kind of feels like a backyard in a way.

"All the fans are kind of close to you. Usually, the stadiums that we play in are huge and a lot bigger than this."

Sharapova's game was as picturesque as the setting in which she played.

After each player held their opening service, Sharapova won five games in a row, closing the first set with a picture-perfect drop shot. It caught Zahlavova Strycova by surprise as Sharapova had sent blistering cross-court forehands past her up to that point.

Zahlavova Strycova held her opening two serves of the second set, but Sharapova was too strong, too accurate and simply too good. She won four games in a row to take a 5-2 lead and closed the second-round match with another smashing forehand that her Czech opponent couldn't answer.

Sharapova, the tournament's top seed, received a first-round bye. It was her first clay-court match of the season, but it was hard to tell with her effective style of play.

"Coming into the match, you really don't know what to expect because you know your opponent has already had a few matches on clay, and this is your first match," Sharapova said. …

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