ROME - Top-seeded Maria Sharapova defeated Mary Pierce 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the third round of the Italian Open on Thursday.
Sharapova next faces ninth-seeded Elena Bovina, who edged Paola Suarez of Argentina 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5). If she wins the tournament, Sharapova can overtake Lindsay Davenport for the No. 1 world ranking.
"Yeah, it would be an amazing feeling," Sharapova said of the top ranking. "But I'm just trying to take one match at a time. I know expectations are high. I'm just trying to keep cool out there."
In other matches, defending champion Amelie Mauresmo beat Silvia Farina Elia 6-4, 6-3, while sixth-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia defeated Catalina Castano of Colombia 6-1, 5-7, 6-2; and eighth-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland eliminated Ana Ivanovic of Serbia-Montenegro 6-3, 6-2.
Sharapova squandered a 5-2 lead over Pierce in the first set. But Pierce, the 1997 winner here, hit backhands into the net to let Sharapova take control of the tiebreak and win it. In the second set, Sharapova had four service breaks to Pierce's two.
The Russian could have taken the top ranking last week with a victory at the German Open, but lost to eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinals.
Playing in her seventh career clay-court tournament, Sharapova has never advanced past the quarterfinals.
"As the weeks go on I think I'm playing better on clay," Sharapova said.
Mauresmo, who has advanced to the Rome final the past four years, beat an opponent who was treated for a neck injury in the second set.
"It wasn't a great match to watch, but sometimes you need these types of matches, said Mauresmo, who is seeded second. "You can't always play 100 percent. When you watch a match like that, you would say I'm far from my level of last year, but it can come pretty quick."
The Frenchwoman will next meet four-time Italian Open winner Conchita Martinez in this clay-court tuneup for the French Open, which begins May 23. Martinez advanced when seventh-seeded Nadia Petrova pulled out because of a strained right thigh from Wednesday's match.
Francesca Schiavone of Italy upset 15th-seeded Ai Sugiyama of Japan 6-3, 7-5, after having beaten Serena Williams on Wednesday, and Evgenia Linetskaya of Russia eliminated Gisela Dulko of Argentina 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Mauresmo missed many routine groundstrokes but still overpowered the 13th-seeded Farina Elia, recording twice as many winners as her opponent. Mauresmo improved to 7-0 against Farina Elia.
Farina Elia called a trainer onto the court while trailing 3-2 in the second set, and said the injury affected her game.
"I was always in trouble, fighting from behind," she said. "I had a very low percentage of first serves, and my second serve wasn't great, either. The court was very hard and I was always playing two meters behind the baseline."
Farina Elia's best result in 13 appearances at this event came when she reached the quarterfinals last year, when she also lost to Mauresmo.
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