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Sharapova has tough time in 1st round at Paris

The former Wimbledon champion overcame a gimpy foot, a 5-2 deficit in the third set to beat Mashona Washington 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.

india Updated: May 29, 2006 13:38 IST

The French Open started on a Sunday for the first time and nearly ended quickly for Maria Sharapova. The former Wimbledon champion overcame a gimpy foot, a 5-2 deficit in the third set and three match points to beat Mashona Washington 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.

The match was the first since April 1 for Sharapova, who withdrew from two events leading up to Roland Garros because of a right ankle injury. Her movement was clearly hampered, even after a trainer rewrapped the ankle following the second set.

But the 29-year-old Washington, who came into the tournament ranked 97th, failed to close out a win that would have been the biggest of her career. Sharapova won the final five games to limp into the second round.

"I was playing with pain, and I blocked it out somehow and started moving better, and she got a little bit tight," Sharapova said. "I knew I wouldn't be playing 100 percent. I'm obviously not moving great."

Roland Garros added a 15th day of play this year to extend into a third weekend, and neither Sharapova nor top-ranked Roger Federer was thrilled with the early start.

Federer lost his first two service games to fall behind 3-0, then gradually found his form and beat qualifier Diego Hartfield 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-2. "I prefer easy matches," Federer said.

Beginning his bid for the only Grand Slam title he has yet to win, Federer needed more than 2 hours to eliminate an Argentine making his tour-level debut.

Like Sharapova, Federer said he asked not to play the first day, but officials turned him down. "I didn't want to be the guy who starts the tournament," he said.

"You play Sunday, first up, you feel like the tournament hasn't even started yet, and right away you're challenged. It's not easy."

Washington kept the No. 4-seeded Sharapova on the run with shots into the corners and reached her first match point at 5-3. Sharapova calmly erased it with a forehand winner.

Washington held two more match points serving at 5-4, but lost the first with a backhand long, then lost her last one when Sharapova whacked another forehand winner.

"I played well," Washington said. "I just wasn't able to get the last point."

Beginning with the last match point she saved, Sharapova won 15 of the final 19 points. When she hit a running backhand winner to reach match point myself, she twirled and punched the air.

Washington then sailed a backhand wide, and a relieved Sharapova tapped her chest with her fist as she walked to the net. "I'm a competitor, and that's why I play the sport," Sharapova said. "That's why I'm here."

First Published: May 29, 2006 13:38 IST