Sharapova set to play against Zahlavova

Amelia Island, April 8:

Hard courts have been very good to Maria Sharapova so far this year. Now she’s getting a head start on clay.

Sharapova, who won the Australian Open and was 18-1 to start 2008, switches surfaces this week, playing on clay for the first time this year at the Bausch & Lomb Championships. Fresh off a two-week break, Sharapova will make her first career appearance at the tournament.

Top-seeded Sharapova spent the last week practicing on clay thinking about the French Open, the only Grand Slam event the 20-year-old has yet to win.

Sharapova and the rest of the top eight seeds received first-round byes here on Monday. Neither Sharapova nor No 2-seeded Anna Chakvetadze or No 3 Daniela Hantuchova have reached a tour final on clay. However, the field includes former champions Amelie Mauresmo and Lindsay Davenport.

Sharapova starts on Tuesday against Czech qualifier Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who defeated Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky 6-2, 6-4. Seeded winners in the first round included No 9 Sybille Bammer, No 13 Virginie Razzano and No 15 Anabel Medina Garrigues. Bammer beat wild card Anna Orlik 6-3, 7-6 (2). Ranked 23rd, Bammer lost her serve three times to the Belarus teenager but Orlik’s own serve wasn’t strong enough to hold back the Austrian.

Medina Garrigues, the doubles runner-up last year, won 6-4, 6-3 over Maria Emilia Salerni of Argentina, but Spanish partner Virginia Ruano Pascual lost to Olgo Govortsova of Belarus 6-3, 6-3. Razzano ended a three-match losing streak in beating Yuliana Fedak of Ukraine 6-2, 6-1.