* Third seed negotiates tough match to reach second round
* Sharapova seeks to draw line under Williams war of words (Writes through with quotes, details)
By Sonia Oxley
LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - Third seed Maria Sharapova moved on from her weekend spat with Serena Williams by returning to her day job on Monday and earning a 7-6(5) 6-3 win over Kristina Mladenovic in a tricky first round match at Wimbledon.
The Russian had been embroiled in a conflict with Williams after a magazine interview with the world number one that included a reference the reporter interpreted as an attack on Sharapova’s relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov.
“I’ve said everything that I wanted to say about the issue,” Sharapova, who told the American on Saturday to keep her nose out of other people’s business, told a news conference.
“You know, Wimbledon (has) started. This is my work. This is my job. I’d really appreciate it if we move on.”
Even if those asking the questions were not ready to move on, Sharapova tried to make it business as usual even though her match was not quite as easy as a first-round clash might be.
Frenchwoman Mladenovic exuded a confidence way above her world ranking of 37 as she matched 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova every step of the way in the first set, with neither player dropping serve on their way to the tiebreak.
It took until 5-5 in the breaker for Sharapova to earn a set point which she converted with a backhand volley.
The 26-year-old Russian, losing finalist in 2011, stepped up her game in the second set and Mladenovic’s challenge came to an end as Sharapova set up a meeting with Portugal’s Michelle Larcher De Brito in the next round.
”I had a really tough first round,“ Sharapova said. ”I expected it. I knew she would come out playing extremely well.
“You know, the first set we didn’t break each other. Women’s tennis, kind of rare.”
Although she tried hard to focus only on tennis matters, Sharapova could not avoid more questions about her exchange of words with Williams, whom she lost to in the French Open final earlier this month.
Williams, under fire for comments she made about a high-profile teenage rape case in Ohio in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, apologised to Sharapova on Sunday after the article included an account of a private conversation between Williams and her sister Venus.
In the interview, the American referred to “a top-five player who is now in love” without naming anyone but the author of the article assumed the person to be Sharapova.
It added: “She begins every interview with ‘I‘m so happy. I‘m so lucky’ - it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it’.”
Sharapova said the matter was behind them and it was important to focus on the grasscourt grand slam.
“It’s because Wimbledon just started. This is one of the most incredible tournaments. This is where all of us work. This is our job,” she said.
“Our job is to go out on the court and work and try to win matches and nothing else. That’s the most important thing to me in my life right now.” (Editing by Ken Ferris)