Sharapova steers past valiant Vekic

 - Alex Sharp

Two-time champion overcomes stern challenge to eventually outlast Donna Vekic in straights sets.

Two-time Roland Garros champion Maria Sharapova found the answers to edge past Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4 on Thursday and into the third round.

The Russian wasn’t surprised by the 21-year-old’s full-throttle approach and first-strike tennis during the two-hour tussle.

“I think you see it from the younger generation, there is no holding back,” Sharapova said. “From the perspective of coming into a tournament and just thinking that you might get a few rounds in to warm up is no longer the case. I think that speaks for itself in terms of the quality of players.

“Of course they are aggressive. They have to be. They have to take chances against players that have been on the Tour for many years. I have experience behind my back, and I think it's a match that she's looked forward to for many years, and she's going to come out and play great tennis, I expected that.”

Ahead of their first ever encounter, the 28th seed entered the ‘Bullring’ No.1 Court having never lost a second-round match at the French Open in 12 contests.

However, Vekic struck a piercing inside-out forehand winner to score an instant break. Sharapova re-grouped and restored scoreboard parity, before surging ahead 5-3.

A searing backhand return from Vekic skimmed the baseline to haul back the former champion. Yet from 5-5, the Russian rattled through four successive games to take the initiative.

World No.50 Vekic went for broke when facing defeat at 5-4 in the second set and earned several chances to level scores at 5-5 and prolong the match, but Sharapova eventually had too much in her artillery.

The five-time Grand Slam winner struck a 29th winner on her fifth match point to clinch the straight-sets triumph.

The world No.30 will face sixth seed Karolina Pliskova in the third round, who navigated past 2015 finalist Lucie Safarova 3-6 6-4 6-1 in the ground pass-holder's paradise of Court 18.

Sharapova enjoyed the intimacy of playing again on the ‘Bullring’ but believes facing Pliskova will pitch the duo onto Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“I would love to be there again, of course. I think from a draw perspective, it's an anticipated seeding match and it's been a while since I played Pliskova,” stated the 31-year-old, who prevailed 6-3 6-4 in their one and only meeting in Fed Cup action against Pliskova in 2015.

“It will be our first meeting on clay. It’s been a few years since I have been back on the court (2015); so if I do have a chance to play on it I will welcome it with open arms.”

Pliskova struck 13 aces to book a third round ticket on Thursday and Sharapova maintains her returning capabilities will be the key to progressing in a hard-hitting clash.

“There are a lot of things I feel I could have done better in the last two matches. I will have to produce that type of level against someone like Pliskova," she said.

"I think you have to kind of take care of the return. On that side of the game, I feel has improved in the last few months and I like the challenge of coming up against a really good server.”