Sharapova avoids huge upset in opening round

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Top-seeded Maria Sharapova avoided a stunning third-set collapse, overcoming the soaring heat and her own mistakes to beat Camille Pin 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in the first round of the Australian Open.

The heat -- it was 97 degrees and muggy at midday -- forced tournament officials to suspend play on the outside courts.

Sharapova, her screeching intensifying as the temperature and the pressure increased, won five straight games to open the third set and appeared set to finish off quickly. Then she hit a wall.

As Pin ran off five straight games -- fending off match points in the eighth game -- to tie it up, Sharapova's shoulders drooped with each error.

She held for 6-5, but appeared ready to be sick at any moment, once stopping her service motion to grab her left hip and grimace. Sharapova called for the trainer as Pin headed back on court, stretching in the shade to stay loose.

Sharapova was barely moving between points, conserving energy. She squandered her third match point as Pin served in the next game.

Then she was broken again and allowed Pin to serve for the match.

The 19-year-old Russian got back on serve when Pin double-faulted on breakpoint to make it 7-7, then won the next eight points to end the match.

"This was one of the toughest matches -- obviously not one of my best," Sharapova said. "Most important, I'm looking forward to recovering."

Sharapova had not lost in the first round at a major since her first two Grand Slam tournaments in 2003. She has reached the quarterfinals in nine of the last 11 Grand Slams, including her U.S. Open win in September.

Her escape Tuesday meant Virginia Ruzici remains the only top-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the Australian championship in the Open era, falling to Australian Mary Sawyer in 1979.

Sharapova said she felt pain in her lower stomach late in the match. Highly irritated, she also yelled an obscenity at chair umpire John Blom who ordered the replay of a point Sharapova had won because a second ball dropped court behind Pin.

"I started in the second set getting a pinch, I'm not sure if it was cramps," Sharapova said. "I finally decided to call the trainer. I didn't know if it was serious."

When an announcement followed the match that due to the Extreme Heat Policy, tournament organizers would close the roof at Rod Laver Arena, Sharapova raised her hands over her head and clapped. She gave the announcer the thumbs up.

Asked if it was hot enough, Sharapova, now dressed in her warmup jacket, replied: "You're not kidding."

Pin, the Frenchwoman who has only reached the second round twice in 15 majors, unsettled Sharapova with her composure and by relentlessly keeping the ball in play.

Sharapova had trouble with her serve, dropping six games in blur of 65 unforced errors.

The Extreme Heat Policy, which measures conditions by combining the air and court surface temperatures, was invoked halfway through the Sharapova-Pin match.

That meant that the roofs at Rod Laver Arena and the other main show arena were to be closed at the completion of ongoing matches. Matches on outside courts were allowed to finish, but no new matches were allowed to start for at least three hours.

Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian grew stronger in the heat as Janko Tipsarevic wilted. Tipsarevic retired because of heat exhaustion in the fifth set more than 90 minutes after he wasted his chance at serving for the match.

Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon finalist and a semifinalist here last year, won 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0, 2-1.

Second-ranked Rafael Nadal and Scotland's Andy Murray, the only men to beat Roger Federer in 2006, were in action later Tuesday.

French Open champion Nadal was to follow Sharapova on Rod Laver Arena in a first-round match against American Robert Kendrick, who took the first two sets off him at Wimbledon last year before the Spaniard rallied to win in five.

Also, Sebastien Grosjean, a quarterfinalist or better at four of the last six Australian Opens, led Christophe Rochus 6-2, 4-1 when the Belgian retired because of breathing difficulties.

Roby Ginepri advanced in five sets over Spain's Nicolas Almagro, seeded 32nd, while No. 13 Tomas Berdych beat South Korea's Lee Hyung-taik 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, and No. 31 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland beat Kevin Kim in four.

In women's matches, 13th-seeded Ana Ivanovic advanced with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Vania King, and India's Sania Mirza was a 6-3, 7-5 winner over Olga Savchuk,

Americans Meilen Tu and Laura Granville advanced, while Anastassia Rodionova and 12th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze joined fellow Russian Sharapova in the second round.

Federer, aiming for a 10th Grand Slam title, began his title defense Monday with a 7-5, 6-0, 6-4 victory over Bjorn Phau.

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