Sharapova returns to US Open with easy victory

Updated: 02 September 2009 12:11 IST

Maria Sharapova simply couldn't bear the thought of a US Open taking place without her.

Sharapova returns to US Open with easy victory

New York:

Maria Sharapova simply couldn't bear the thought of a US Open taking place without her.

So while sidelined with a torn shoulder a year ago, she refused to follow the tournament on TV. Basically pretended it wasn't even happening.

On Tuesday night, Sharapova was right where she likes to be: on the Grand Slam stage and in the spotlight. The 2006 US Open champion returned to the tournament with an impressive 6-3, 6-0 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.

"I was in the physical therapy office every single day, and the tennis was on. But I made a point not to watch it," Sharapova explained. "When you're not participating in a tournament that you very much love, and you've had success at, as an athlete and as a competitor, to not be there and not be competing is pretty tough."

Against her 98th-ranked opponent, Sharapova's game was as glittery as her black-and-silver dress, an outfit she described as a tribute to New York's skyline. The three-time Grand Slam title winner produced 29 winners - 23 more than Pironkova. And Sharapova's game was particularly clean in the second set, when she hit 16 winners and only five unforced errors.

Apart from four double-faults, Sharapova showed no signs of the shoulder injury that forced her to have surgery in October and kept off the tour for nearly 10 months.

"This is a Grand Slam. You've got to get going from the first match," Sharapova said. "After being gone, this is what it's all about."

Tell that to Ana Ivanovic. Or Dinara Safina.

Earlier Tuesday, Safina came perilously close to becoming the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose in the US Open's first round. But she eked out a victory over an 18-year-old from Australia who is ranked 167th and needed a wild-card invitation to get into the tournament.

The worst showing ever by a top-seeded woman in New York came last year, when Ivanovic exited in the second round. Now seeded 11th, Ivanovic did herself one worse this time, losing in the first round to 52nd-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7).

"It hurts. I can tell you that," Ivanovic said. "I'm sure I will have sleepless nights."

At least the 2008 French Open champion had a big support group in the stands, cheering for her wildly. Safina, in contrast, would look up at her coach for positive body language, and instead, he'd cover his eyes with his hands or turn his head with a wince.

Nearly undone by 11 double-faults and 48 total unforced errors, Safina was a point away from a 4-0 deficit in the third set before coming back to beat Olivia Rogowska 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4.

Safina, younger sister of 2000 US Open champion Marat Safin, is used to faring well in the early stages of Grand Slam tournaments. Usually, it's later on that problems arise: She is 0-3 in major finals, all lopsided losses, and managed to win only one game against Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals in July.

"I was surprised that, you know, she was giving me free points," said Rogowska, who never has defeated anyone ranked better than 47th.

As Rogowska spoke, her eyes were red, and she fiddled with a well-worn tissue.

"I'm disappointed I lost," she said, "and I didn't expect to say that after playing the No. 1 player in the world. It's a bit weird."

Ivanovic was not the only seeded player who was upset: 276th-ranked Jesse Witten of Naples, Fla., knocked off No. 29-seeded Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4, 6-0, 6-2; Nicolas Lapentti beat No. 19 Stanislas Wawrinka 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 6-3; and Ivan Navarro beat No. 27 Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (5).

Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium defeated No. 16 Virginie Razzano of France 6-4, 6-3; and Shahar Peer of Israel eliminated No. 32 Agnes Szavay of Hungary 6-2, 6-2.

Otherwise, winners included 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, past runners-up Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic, No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 13 Nadia Petrova.

Men's winners included No. 2-seeded Andy Murray, last year's US Open runner-up, who beat Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-5, 6-3, 7-5 in Tuesday night's last match.

Also advancing were 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and that tournament's runner-up, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, along with No. 10 Fernando Verdasco, No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 16 Marin Cilic, No. 17 Tomas Berdych, No. 22 Sam Querrey of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Taylor Dent of Newport Beach, Calif.

Dent, playing in the US Open for the first time since 2005, eliminated Feliciano Lopez of Spain 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-5.

Neither Safina nor Rogowska played particularly well. They combined for 24 double-faults, 113 unforced errors and 15 service breaks over 2 1/2 hours.

"I put a lot of pressure on her serve," Rogowska said, "and it seemed to crumble a bit."

Afterward, Safina found two things to be happy about: She didn't break any rackets - something big brother Marat is known for - and she didn't receive any warnings from the chair umpire. So, yes, the mental fragility she's acknowledged is an issue for her on court was a factor in her play, but at least Safina managed to keep it in check.

"It happens that you have a bad day and you want to ... say, 'I hate everything,'" Safina said. "But at the end of the day, you win the match, even like this - I would say a little bit ugly. But you come in the hotel, and you are like, 'I made it.'"

Rogowska, too, tried to focus on the positive.

A year ago, after all, she was back home in Melbourne, watching the US Open on television. On Tuesday, she was playing in the tournament and nearly winning - against the woman who is ranked No. 1, no less.

"My heart was just going crazy, and I was breathing, like, really fast," Rogowska said. "So next time, I guess, I'm just going to have to learn to stay calm, and, you know, not get too excited."

Sounds like good advice for Safina.



Topics : Tennis Andy Roddick Lukas Dlouhy Rohan Bopanna Leander Paes Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi Maria Sharapova
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