The second-seeded Russian dropped her first service game as they traded breaks in the first three games, then settled in to seal the victory in just 61 minutes.
“Once I started being a little bit more aggressive I felt like I had an edge on her,” Sharapova said.
She was glad to get through her tournament opener against the 2010 French Open champion, even if the Italian’s drop in form has seen her slip to 47th in the world.
“No matter where she is in the rankings she has experience, has a Grand Slam behind her back,” said Sharapova, who is playing just her third tournament of 2013.
Like all seeded players in the combined ATP Masters and WTA tournament, she received a first-round bye.
Sharapova, the 2006 champion in the California desert and runner-up last year to Victoria Azarenka, advanced to a third-round match against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, a 6-1, 6-1 winner over Silvia Soler-Espinosa.
Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska also booked her third-round berth, rolling past US wild card Maria Sanchez 6-2, 6-1.
Poland’s Radwanska, ranked fourth in the world, has already nabbed two titles this year at Auckland and Sydney while Sanchez was playing in just her third WTA main draw.
In men’s first-round action, Italy’s Fabio Fognini advanced to a second-round clash with World No. 1 Novak Dkjokovic with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene.
Fognini, ranked 36th in the world, will face a daunting task against the Serb, who is 13-0 in 2013.
Djokovic’s season so far includes a third Australian Open title and a fourth ATP Dubai Open triumph, and he said he thought the hard courts of Indian Wells, where he won in 2008 and 2009, suit his game.
“Hopefully I can maintain the high level of performance and move into these weeks with a great deal of confidence,” Djokovic said as he looked forward not only to his Indian Wells campaign but to the following Masters tournament in Miami.
Russian Evgeny Donskoy defeated Japan’s Tatsuma Ito 6-2, 6-1 to line up a meeting with third-seeded US Open and Olympic champion Andy Murray.
Defending champion Roger Federer, the second seed, will lead the men’s seeds into the fray on Saturday against Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin.
Fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal, the 11-time Grand Slam champion on the comeback trail after a seven-month injury absence, will play American Ryan Harrison.
Azarenka was also due to open her campaign on Saturday, with a potentially tricky second-round match against two-time champion Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.
Other women’s seeds advancing on Friday included fifth-seeded former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who survived 10 double faults to beat Olga Govortsova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
The hard-hitting Czech, winner at Dubai in February, next faces Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko, who downed Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
Sixth-seeded Sara Errani advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
French ninth seed Marion Bartoli eased into the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over South African Chanelle Scheepers.
She’ll face two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who bounced back after being blanked in the first set to beat former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 0-6, 6-2, 7-5.