Sharapova ends Barty's Italian Open hopes

Ashleigh Barty has lost her past two matches on clay as she prepares for the French Open

Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty has been knocked out in the first round of the Italian Open by three-time champion Maria Sharapova.

Making her debut in the main draw in Rome, the 16th-seeded Barty produced a battling performance to take the five-time grand slam champion to a deciding set but eventually succumbed 7-5 3-6 6-2.

Sharapova was given a stern examination by the 22-year-old Barty, and fought her way back from 0-40 down to save serve in the decider before breaking her opponent and running away with the match.

"I think it was a really good way to end the match, to get that win, to take care of those break points when it mattered, to save the break points on my serve," Sharapova said.

"I felt like there's a lot of positives at the end of that match."

Barty has now dropped her last two three-setters on Europe's red clay, having won her first five this season.

"She made me hit a lot of balls, and that's the reason why she's doing so well, seeded here and had the results that she has," Sharapova said of the world No.18.

Russian 14th seed Daria Kasatkina accounted for Ajla Tomljanovic 6-0 6-4, to leave Daria Gavriolova as the lone Australian in the second round.

Jelena Ostapenko stormed into the third round with a dominant 6-2 7-5 victory over China's Zhang Shuai on a rain-delayed day.

The Latvian was at her formidable best, with Zhang unable to deal with the reigning French Open champion's power from the baseline as she succumbed in an hour and 10 minutes.

Ukrainian fourth seed Elina Svitolina, the defending champion, rolled past Petra Martic 6-1 6-2 in a tick over an hour to reach the last 16.

Former world No.1 Angelique Kerber overcame lucky loser Zarina Diyas 6-2 7-6 (8-6) to progress to the second round.

Kerber, seeded 11th, was making her first return to action since retiring from the Stuttgart Open last month with a thigh strain.

"After Stuttgart it was a really tough time because I had a lot of pain in my leg, and now I can say I was without pain the whole match and I could play my game like I practised the past few days," Kerber said.

France's Kristina Mladenovic was forced to retire due to injury while trailing 15th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 3-0.

Other first-round winners were Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Vesnina, Maria Sakkari, Timea Babos, Danielle Collins, Hsieh Su-Wei and Irina-Camelia Begu.