Ash Barty’s quest to regain the World No.1 ranking will go through Maria Sharapova on Tuesday.
Barty and Sharapova will clash in the second round of the Cincinnati Masters after the Russian won her first round match against Alison Riske on Monday.
Remarkably, it was Riske who sparked Barty’s fall from World No.1 after beating her in the fourth round at Wimbledon, also snapping her 15-match winning streak.
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Barty then lost first round in Toronto to surrender the top spot back to Naomi Osaka.
However the Australian can grab it straight back if she outperforms Osaka in Cincinnati.
The French Open champion must reach at least the semi-finals to regain the No.1 ranking and also clinch top seeding status for the final grand slam of the year getting underway on August 26 in New York.
She will face a stern test in Sharapova though, who staged a remarkable comeback from 3-5 down in the second set to move past Riske with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win.
"She's one of the few players that have really dominated and has been impressive to see,” Sharapova said of facing Barty.
"I'm the one coming in with not a lot of match play, but I'll have to figure it out. If not, it's going to be too late.”
Sharapova holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Barty, but the Australian won their last match-up at the Australian Open in January.
Sharapova comes back from 3-5 in the 2nd to beat Riske 6-3, 7-6(4) and reach the 2nd round in Cincinnati.— José Morgado (@josemorgado) August 13, 2019
That's her first hard court win since january 29th (her 2nd hard court match since then).
She is facing #2 Barty next. They played a classic in Melbourne this year.
Impressive win for Maria Sharapova, beating Wimbledon quarterfinalist Alison Riske 6-3, 7-6(4).— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 13, 2019
Sharapova faces top seed Ash Barty in the next round of #CincyTennis.
In defeating fellow wild card Alison Riske, 6-3, 7-6 (4), in her Cincinnati opener, Maria Sharapova will get a shot to avenge her Australian Open defeat to top seed Ashleigh Barty. https://t.co/VvmYI66SBS— TENNIS (@Tennis) August 13, 2019
Is Sharapova gonna be a problem for Barty party?— MM (@shankballs) August 13, 2019
Should she win her opener, Barty could face former world No.1 Angelique Kerber in the third round and dual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals.
Osaka will start against Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich and could run into Serena Williams in the quarters.
Kyrgios serves up straight-sets win
Nick Kyrgios overcame the early distraction of an incorrect line call to serve his way into the second round.
The Australian No.1 said he wasn't overly pleased with his serve in his 7-5 6-4 victory over Italian Lorenzo Sonego in one hour and 19 minutes.
Kyrgios only served four aces but did not face a break point against Turkish Open champion Sonego and won 46 of his 54 service points, as he bounced back from his early exit last week in Montreal.
"I actually felt as if I didn't serve my best today at all. I'm being serious. I didn't feel like I was hitting my spots well at all," Kyrgios told Tennis Channel.
"I'm just happy to get through. I knew it was going to be tough and I wanted to play Khachanov next, so I'm looking forward to it."
The world No.27 will face eighth-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov for the first time, with a spot in the round of 16 up for grabs.
Earlier in the day, Jordan Thompson lost to Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka 7-5 5-7 6-4 in the first round.
Thompson battled hard for two hours and 23 minutes but it was the Japanese qualifier who won the crucial points to claim a third three-set win over the Australian in their three career encounters.
Frenchman Richard Gasquet ousted Andy Murray 6-4 6-4 in the Scot's return to singles play after hip surgery while Radu Albot beat 14th-seeded Marin Cilic 6-4 7-6 (8-6).