Beijing - Maria Sharapova said on Tuesday that her
third-round China Open clash with world number two Simona Halep will help the
Russian gauge her progress since returning from a 15-month doping ban.
The former number one, on the comeback trail since April
following the ban for taking the banned substance meldonium, had to dig deep as
she defeated compatriot Ekaterina Makarova over three sets in the second round.
Sharapova, a lowly 104 in the world and on a wildcard at the
China Open, has yet to win a tournament since returning to tennis.
The five-time Grand Slam champion said she had endured
"a few ups and downs" in seeing off Makarova 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
But the 30-year-old is relishing her showdown with the
Romanian Halep: "We know each other's games very well, that's no secret.
"They've always been very challenging, tough,
Sharapova, a crowd favourite in Beijing, added: "But I
love the challenge of playing against someone that's number two in the world.
"She's a great player, she's had a great year.
"Any time you're able to face an opponent that's done
something right and well, it's great to see where you are and where your level
The Halep meeting will be a replay of the first-round match
between the pair at the US Open in August, when Sharapova made an impressive
return to Grand Slam competition before exiting in the fourth round.
Sharapova holds a 7-0 record against Halep, who made it into
the next round on the outside Beijing hard courts after Magdalena Rybarikova
retired ill in the second set.
Tuesday's encounter with Makarova was the second time in
four days that Sharapova had been forced into a deciding set.
And the Russian believes tournaments such as the China Open
are only getting harder to win.
"There's a lot of depth in the game, by that I mean
there's maybe many years ago you'd find yourself working through the first
rounds," she said.
"You knew you're going to get through those first few
rounds, it will be straight sets -- you might be rusty, but you'll get through
"You can't think like that anymore, there's too many
good players playing the first, second, third, fourth rounds."