Sharapova has played just 10 matches so far this season
Former world number one Maria Sharapova got a much needed victory at the Strasbourg International but was made to work hard by Regina Kulikova.
The three-time Grand Slam champion, 23, beat her fellow Russian 6-3 3-6 6-1 in two hours and 14 minutes.
Sharapova has been hampered by an injury to her right elbow this season and lost her first match since March when she returned in Madrid last week.
"I played a pretty good opponent today," Sharapova told the WTA website.
"I was put in a situation where I had to come through when my opponent was playing well.
"Regina has a similar game to mine - big first serve, hits pretty big and attacks. I played well enough to win. It was a high-quality match, especially for a first round."
Sharapova will next play Germany's Tatjana Malek or Bulgarian Dia Evtimova, and the top seed is keen to get time on court ahead of next week's French Open.
"I need matches. I haven't had many this year," she said. "I got injured again with my elbow and missed a couple of big tournaments.
"I'm just trying to find my form again. This week is quite important, especially for the French Open - that's why I'm here."
Britain's Naomi Cavaday missed out on a place in the main draw when she lost 6-4 6-4 to Evtimova in the final round of qualifying.
It was a similar story for British number two, Anne Keothavong, who lost 3-6 6-1 6-4 to Hungary's Greta Arn at the same stage in Warsaw, although Briton Sarah Borwell and American Raquel Kops-Jones beat Poland's Paula Kania and Magda Linette 7-6 (8-6) 6-0 in the doubles.
British number one, Elena Baltacha, faces a tough opening encounter in Strasbourg when she takes on last year's French Open quarter-finalist Sorana Cirstea of Romania on Tuesday.
Britons Laura Robson and Anna Smith were beaten 6-3 6-2 by Germans Kristina Barrois and Jasmin Woehr in the first round of the doubles.