ROME: Sharapova, Schiavone, Mattek-Sands Through

Mattek-Sands is getting used to clay.

Murray, Soderling win, slumping Isner out

Maria Sharapova scored a much-needed win in Rome when she bullied an erratic Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-1. Sharapova does not expect to win a slow clay Tier I tournament, but the weather is hot in Rome and if the balls are moving the air quickly she is certainly a threat. In an encouraging sign, she thought she served well, which has been plaguing her much of the past nine months. If she can find a way to start ahead in points on her service games she’ll be in very good shape for the rest of the year because her return is still right up with the best in the game. “I’ve been working on my serve and especially placement,” said Sharapova, who will play the winner of the match between Shahar Peer and Alisa Kleybanova. “I was happy with it today and with my stats, especially on clay.”

Bethanie Mattek-Sands won another big match on dirt, stunning Flavia Pennetta 64 4-6 6-3. Mattek should now at least equal her career high of No. 37 and if Venus and Serena Williams don’t play Roland Garros as expected, if she can lift her ranking to No. 34 – which might mean reaching the quarters – than she’ll be seeded at a Slam for the first time and that will mean a hell of lot to her. She’ll play Jarmila (formerly Groth) Gajdosova, whom she lost to in the Hobart final.

French Open champ Francesca Schiavone also advanced by taking out US teen Christina McHale 6-3 6-1. “Everything went according to plan today and it’s given me confidence,” she said. Alberta Brianti took out Zheng Jie 6-4 7-5 and Sara Errani advanced when Roberta Vinci retired injured. Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova bested Yaroslava Shvedova 6-4 6-4 and will play Caroline Wozniacki. Andy Murray made a bit of noise that he may be heard from in a big way sometime soon again when he survived Xavier Malisse 6-2 2-6 6-3, and Robin Soderling came back to beat Fernando Verdasco 2-6 7-5 6-4, who has had a terrible clay court season.

After a desultory 6-4 6-1 defeat to Argentine veteran Juan Ignacio Chela, it looks like John Isner won’t be seeded at Roland Garros, which would have been a decent way for him avoid standout clay courters in the first two rounds. The word off the court is that Isner mentally threw in the towel in the second set, which would explain the score. The man needs a kick in the pants because he really does have top 10 stuff if he competes like he did last year and can find a way to improve his backhand, return and transition game, and yes, I realize that

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