Sharapova back to action at French Open

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Those unmistakable shrieks punctuating point after point on Court 1 at the French Open on Monday trumpeted Maria Sharapova's return to the Grand Slam stage

Updated: May 26, 2009 17:38 IST
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Those unmistakable shrieks punctuating point after point on Court 1 at the French Open on Monday trumpeted Maria Sharapova's return to the Grand Slam stage.

There were other ways Sharapova made her presence felt _ the big groundstrokes off both wings; the tough-as-nails turnaround after a slow start; the prematch accessories of buttoned-up blue jacket and oversized white purse; the postmatch victory waves and blown kisses.

Sharapova's tennis is not yet back to her lofty standards, as one might expect after shoulder surgery in October and four singles matches in the past 10 months. The 64th-ranked Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus is not the sort of opponent who would normally trouble a top-of-her-game Sharapova, yet there was trouble Monday.

Still, a win is a win, and Sharapova's first match at a major tournament in nearly a year ended with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Yakimova and a spot in the French Open's second round. It will take more than that performance for Sharapova to erase the uncertainty that comes with such a long layoff.

"This is the first time in my career where I can really say I don't have any expectations," the three-time major champion said. "I don't know how things are going to work out. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, how my shoulder is going to feel."

Because of her time away, Sharapova is ranked 102nd and unseeded at Roland Garros, which might help lower others' expectations, too. A year ago, after all, she was No. 1.

"If I was a mentally weak person or individual, I think I wouldn't be here today," Sharapova said. "I started pretty lousy."

She hit four double-faults in her first two service games and was broken three times in the opening set. She also had 15 unforced errors in that set _ more than the rest of the way.

"She was probably a little nervous," said Yakimova, who is 4-12 in Grand Slam play. "And she hasn't had much practice, so she was missing more than usual."

But Sharapova won 16 of the first 20 points in the second set and, with Yakimova slowed by a bad back, pretty much controlled things from there.

Sharapova hadn't played a match at a major since June 26, 2008, when she was upset 6-2, 6-4 in Wimbledon's second round by 154th-ranked Alla Kudryavtseva. Go further back, to June 3, and Sharapova lost in the fourth round to Dinara Safina at the French Open.

On Monday, she was back at Roland Garros, playing the game that made her rich and famous before she turned 20.

"I love being here, and there's no better feeling than waving to the crowd after you've won," Sharapova said. "From the hour you're in the locker room and putting your dress on, to the 15 minutes before your match, where you're warming up and you're pumping yourself up and you're going to get out there in front of 20,000 people _ you miss that. I certainly missed it."

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  • Tennis
  • Maria Sharapova

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