WARSAW (AFP) - Maria Sharapova made a winning return after a nine-and-a-half-month injury lay-off here on Monday, defeating Italy's Tathiana Garbin 6-1, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3. The 22-year-old Russian has seen her world ranking slump from No.1 to 126 during her absence from the sport, but she played with plenty of grit to secure her place in the second round of the claycourt Warsaw Open. "It was a little bit longer than I wanted it to be, a lot longer than it should have been," said Sharapova, who attended the post-match press conference with an ice pack on her troublesome right shoulder. "But I had good opportunities and I played really well in the first set." Sharapova looked on course for a straightforward victory at 5-3 up in the second set, but some jittery service games allowed Garbin to take the match to a decisive third set. "I was definitely nervous closing that second set up," Sharapova added. "I think that's normal. I'm human." The highest money-earner in women's sport, Sharapova had been out of action since last summer due to a shoulder injury, missing last year's Wimbledon and US Open as well as this year's Australian Open. But the three-time Grand Slam-winner showed few signs of ring rust in the match's early exchanges and broke her opponent four times in a row in the opening set, dropping her own serve once en route to the set. Garbin offered much stiffer resistance in the second set though, breaking her opponent again twice and holding serve five times in succession. Sharapova spurned four match points at 5-3 and 40-0 up in the ninth game, nerves appearing to get the better of her as she double-faulted twice to grant her opponent a stay of execution. Garbin, emboldened, held serve twice to bring up 5-5 and then 6-6, before a seventh double-fault from Sharapova in the subsequent tie-break gave the Italian a set point that she converted at the first attempt. But the Russian, playing with a criss-crossed bandage on her right shoulder, hit back from 3-1 down in the decider to eventually seal victory in two hours and 35 minutes. Sharapova has 19 career singles titles to her name but only one on clay and has made no secret of the fact that playing on the slower surface is not her forte. The claycourt French Open is the only Grand Slam title missing from her collection and she will hope to be fit enough to compete in this year's tournament, which begins in Paris on May 24.