Russian sensation Maria Sharapova began her run up to the Australian Open with a less than convincing victory over China's Yan Zi in the first round of a Hong Kong invitational on Thursday.
The world number two overcame a tough start to defeat the Wimbledon and Australian Open doubles champion 7-5, 6-3 in a 92-minute slugfest marked by the tenacity of the young Chinese player.
Sharapova broke early in the first set to take a commanding 4-1 lead before Yan battled back, breaking the Russian's serve twice to almost force a tie-break.
But the US Open champion drew on her superior strength to claw back in a thrilling ten-minute game to take the first set.
Yan, 22, never got back into the match and despite breaking Sharapova one more time, in the second set, was unable to match her powerful ground strokes.
"It was my first game of the year and it's always weird coming back after training for so long," Sharapova said of her below-par performance.
She wouldn't be drawn on how she rated her chances in the Australia Open later this month following the surprise withdrawal of world number one Justine Henin-Hardenne from the first Grand Slam of the year.
"It doesn't matter who you play you just have to concentrate on your own game," she said.
Eight of the world's top women's tennis players are in Hong Kong, including number five Kim Clijsters who won her first-round match here on Wednesday.
The final will be played on Saturday.