THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROME — French Open champion Francesca Schiavone got off to a comfortable start at the Italian Open by beating 18-year-old American qualifier Christina McHale 6-3, 6-1 Tuesday.
The second-seeded Italian broke McHale’s serve midway through the first set and cruised from there, helped by vocal support from her home fans at the Foro Italico.
Schiavone is ranked a career-high fourth, but is seeded higher this week since No. 2 Kim Clijsters is injured and No. 3 Vera Zvonareva didn’t enter. With Serena and Venus Williams also out injured, local fans are hoping Schiavone can become the first Italian to win at the Foro Italico since Raffaella Reggi in 1985.
However, Schiavone has been struggling to rediscover the clay-court form that took her to the Roland Garros title a year ago. She lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round in Stuttgart, Germany, then was beaten by Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the third round in Madrid last week.
It was tough to judge Schiavone against the 92nd-ranked McHale.
Schiavone led 20-13 in winners and made 15 unforced errors to McHale’s 26 but struggled with her serve, landing just 49 per cent of her first attempts in.
"A lot has changed in a year," Schiavone said. "I was a bit nervous before the tournament, but I got my feeling back on the court — the clay, the sun, the balls, the bounces. It was also nice to feel the warmth from the fans again."
Seventh-seeded Maria Sharapova also had an easy time in her opener, eliminating fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-1.
In Madrid last week, Sharapova needed three sets to get by Makarova.
"I wanted to get the job done faster today," Sharapova said. "It was really important to have my energy up and not have any letdowns like last week."
In men’s action, seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych beat Juan Monaco of Argentina 6-2, 6-2 and 16th-seeded Richard Gasquet of France knocked out Igor Andreev of Russia 6-1, 6-2 to reach the third round.
In the first round, ninth-seeded Nicolas Almagro beat Italian wild card Simone Bolelli 6-0, 7-5 and 14th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland fought off another Italian wild card, Fabio Fognini, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4.
Also, Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi downed last week’s Madrid semifinalist Thomaz Bellucci 7-6 (5), 6-3 and will next face five-time champion Rafael Nadal.
In other women’s action, 10th-seeded Shahar Peer of Israel rallied past Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 3-6, 6-0, 6-4; 12th-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany beat Maria Kirilenko of Russia 7-5, 6-1 and Italian wild card Romina Oprandi eliminated 14th-seeded Kaia Kanepi 7-5, 3-6, 6-1.