Stuttgart, Germany: Defending champion Maria Sharapova admits she had a tough opening in her bid to win a third straight Stuttgart WTA tournament title after her three-sets win over Lucie Safarova.
Sharapova, who has never lost on her two appearances in Stuttgart after winning the 2012 and 2013 titles, will face Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Thursday's last-16 tie after beating Czech Republic's Safarova 7-6(7/5), 6-7(5/7), 7-6 (7/2) late on Tuesday.
Sharapova had to dig deep having been just two points away from defeat when Safarova levelled at 30-all with the scores at 6-5 in the decisive third set.
The statuesque Russian, the sixth seed in Stuttgart, needed three hours, 24 minutes for the 100th clay-court victory of her career.
"I hadn't expected that it would be an easy match," said Sharapova, three days after her 27th birthday.
"There were ups and downs, but the level was good from both of us.
"The momentum changed hands a couple of times.
"I'm happy that I'm the winner, because at one stage in the third set I was only two points away from defeat."