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Maria Sharapova vs Dominica Cibulkova WTA Rome tennis live: Sharapova looks to build momentum for French Open in Rome

Ricky Dimon in WTA Tour 15 May 2018
  • Sharapova and Cibulkova will go head-to-head for the seventh time in their careers
  • Sharapova is coming off a quarterfinal performance in Madrid
  • Both players are still trying to secure a seed for the French Open
ROME, ITALY - MAY 15: Maria Sharapova of Russia serves to Ashleigh Barty of Australia on Tuesday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova and Dominic Cibulkova will be going head-to-head for the seventh time in their careers, for the first time since 2014, and for just the second time since 2011.

A marquee second-round matchup is in the cards for Wednesday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, as Maria Sharapova is set to go up against Dominica Cibulkova. The two veterans have faced each other on six previous occasions, with the head-to-head series all tied up at three wins apiece--including 2-2 on clay. Interestingly, they also clashed in the second round of this same Rome event exactly 10 years ago, when Sharapova prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. The Russian took each of their first two clay-court encounters before Cibulkova got the job done at the 2009 French Open and two years later in Madrid. They last faced each other in round four of the 2014 Australian Open, where the Slovakian soared to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

This season has been a struggle for both players, in part due to physical problems. Cibulkova has slumped to No. 34 in the world, so she has some work to do in Rome if she wants to secure a seeded spot at the upcoming French Open. The 29-year-old had lost her opening match at three consecutive tournaments (Indian Wells, Rabat, and Madrid) since finishing runner-up in Charleston, but he she managed to find the winners' circle to begin her Rome campaign. Cibulkova fought past Italian wild card Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-7(5),6-2 in two hours and 40 minutes on Monday.

Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2018 live stream: WTA tennis live from Rome

Sharapova, who has been dealing with a forearm injury, got things started on Tuesday and scraped by Ashleigh Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and 30 minutes. The world No. 40 served at just 58 percent and double-faulted five times, but she struck five aces and made up for three service donations by breaking Barty on five occasions. Sharapova had not won a single match since the Australian Open second round until she took the court last week in Madrid, where she advanced to the quarterfinals before succumbing to Kiki Bertens.

That Madrid preparation, along with a chance encounter with none other than Rafael Nadal on the practice court on Tuesday, had Sharapova ready to go for her battle with Barty. 

"I saw he was practicing on the court right before me," the 31-year-old said of Nadal. "And I said to my team, 'wouldn't it be amazing if I just came up to Rafa and said 'would you hit a couple balls with me?''. And they're like, 'yeah, what's wrong with that?' And I was like, 'a lot of things. There's a lot of things wrong with just coming up to Rafa.' They're like, 'no, you should. It's not like you're asking him to go on a date.' And so I did.

"He probably thought I was really weird. I think he still thinks I'm really weird."

But it doesn't matter what Nadal thinks of Sharapova. Going into this one, what matters is Sharapova's health. She expressed some lingering discomfort in her forearm despite surviving against Barty, so it remains to be seen if the former world No. 1 will be 100 percent on Wednesday. If not, getting the best of a tough competitor like Cibulkova may be too tough of a task.

Maria Sharapova vs Dominica Cibulkova Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis is live from Rome on Wednesday at 6:00pm local/5:00pm BST

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Maria Sharapova vs Dominica Cibulkova WTA Rome tennis live: Sharapova looks to build momentum for French Open in Rome

Maria Sharapova is set for a blockbuster battle with Dominica Cibulkova at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Wednesday: WTA Rome tennis live from Rome

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