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Sharapova struggles but advances in Beijing

sports Updated: Oct 03, 2010 16:13 IST
AFP
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Three-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova struggled at times to find her rhythm but eventually advanced to the second round of the China Open on Sunday thanks to her brute force from the backcourt.

The Russian, a former world number one and the 12th seed in Beijing, defeated Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (7/5), in a duel of 23-year-olds that lasted more than two hours in the warm afternoon sun.

Sharapova, looking to bounce back after crashing out of the Pan Pacific Open last week in Tokyo in the first round to Japanese veteran Kimiko Date Krumm, used powerful groundstrokes to escape from danger in the first set.

But she faltered in the second set, trading three breaks of serve with Pironkova before sealing the match with a crosscourt backhand winner to end the tiebreaker.

"She started swinging away, and I was a little bit late and a little bit more tentative," Sharapova told reporters, adding that she hoped to improve her consistency and cut down on the number of unforced errors.

"I think the first rounds are never quite perfect," she said, referring also to her loss in Tokyo, which she said had deprived her of much-needed match play.

"At the end of the day, I found a way to win."

In other first-round action, a trio of Russians advanced with ease -- 13th seed Nadia Petrova, 2005 China Open champion Maria Kirilenko and Alisa Kleybanova.

France's Aravane Rezai was the first seeded player ousted. The 14th seed lost to Argentina's Gisela Dulko in three sets.

The 6.6-million-dollar China Open is a joint WTA-ATP event, with both tours looking to make inroads in the vast Asian country, which they see as a strategic marketplace.

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, the top seed in Beijing, could this week take over the world number one ranking from Serena Williams -- who withdrew due to injury this week -- by reaching the quarterfinals or better.

Titleholder Novak Djokovic is the top seed in the men's draw, which begins on Monday. The Serb will face a tough challenge from Britain's Andy Murray, in action for the first time since a disappointing early loss at the US Open.