PARIS — The topic was the location of Maria Sharapova’s upcoming third-round match at the French Open, and a reporter noted it likely will be at one of the tournament’s main arenas, given that it involves 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova.
“Well,” came the rejoinder, “there is also Sharapova.”
This was delivered with Sharapova’s chin resting on her right hand and was followed by a bit of a staredown, as if to say: Let’s not forget who you’re talking to here. The 31-year-old Russian has, after all, been ranked No. 1. She does, after all, own five major titles. And that total does, after all, include a pair from Roland Garros.
She is playing in the clay-court Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2015, though, and she advanced Wednesday by beating 50th-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia 7-5, 6-4 to improve to 13-0 in the second round.
“I don’t think there is ever, like, a perfect way to go into a match. I think you always have to feel that you’re improving and there are things that you’re working on, because that will always make you better,” the 28th-seeded Sharapova said. “There are a lot of things I feel I could have done better (in) the last two matches and I hope I will.”
She missed the 2016 French Open while serving a doping suspension, then was denied a wild-card entry by the French tennis federation last year, when her ranking was too low to earn automatic entry.
When on-target, her strokes are among the best in the game. So is her grit.
Those could both be tested Saturday against Pliskova, who is seeded No. 6 and was a semifinalist in Paris last year.
Her top skill is her serve, which Sharapova knows will provide a test.
“I don’t expect extremely long rallies against an opponent like that. But sometimes (that’s) not what it takes to win a match, and I think you have to kind of take care of your service games, and I have to serve better than I have been,” Sharapova said. “And take care of the return. But that side of the game, I feel, has improved in the last few months.”
Pliskova is on pace to lead the WTA in aces for the fourth consecutive season.
And she wasn’t at all shy about sizing things up against Sharapova, saying: “I believe I have (a) better serve than she (does), so I think that can be the deciding key.”
Then there was this remark: “She can do a lot of mistakes … a lot of free points from double-faults.”
After her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over 2015 French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova on Wednesday, Pliskova acknowledged she has been thinking about taking on Sharapova since the draw was done a week ago.
“For me, it was the goal to play her in the third round,” Pliskova said, adding a few moments later: “I believe I have a good chance to win.”