Australian Open

Sharapova survives meltdown

2015-01-21 07:25
Maria Sharapova (AFP)

Melbourne - Second seed Maria Sharapova staged an epic comeback after wilting in the Melbourne Park heat to beat Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova and reach the Australian Open third round on Wednesday.

The five-time Grand Slam champion saved two match points and had to draw on her vast big-match experience against her unseeded compatriot to eventually triumph 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.

"I was one point away from being out of this tournament twice today and not playing my best tennis so I'm just happy I was able to win that last point," Sharapova said.

The 27-year-old won the Australian title in 2008 but also has a history of struggling in the heat in Melbourne, particularly during the early rounds, including a first-round exit in 2010.

She said Panova, the world number 150 who has failed to qualify for the Open main draw on five previous occasions, was "inspired" and unafraid to play her shots.

But she also admitted her own performance - which included a whopping 51 unforced errors and six double faults - was well off the pace if she is to win the Australian title again and seize back the world number one ranking.

She was hopeful a tough match early on would leave her battle hardened for the tournament's latter stages.

"I guess we'll see, I hope that's the plan," she said.

"I didn't actually want to be out here for two-and-a-half hours but that's sometimes the way it goes on days when you're not playing your best - sometimes it's good enough just to get through."

Sharapova looked sharp in the first set, vigorously chasing down her returns and keeping her error count low, while Panova appeared out of her depth and conceded the set in 26 minutes.

The marathon 57-minute second set was a different story, with Sharapova struggling as her service game faltered.

Her attempts to smash big winners also repeatedly failed to hit their mark, leaving the world number two glaring at her opponent.

She cooled down with an ice vest during the change of ends but it made little difference as she lost her first set of the tournament.

Her nightmare continued in the deciding set's opening game when she double faulted and gifted a break to Panova.

Looking red-faced and exhausted, her attempts to attack Panova's serve lacked venom and the qualifier held on comfortably then went on to claim another break at 4-1.

Sharapova finally managed to break back and held serve, then fended off two match points as Panova attempted to serve out the set, levelling it at 5-5.

The wily world number two then held Panova to love and made it 6-5, edging ahead for the first time in the set and went on the break her opponent again and claim the match.

Sharapova faces a third round match against either Slovak Anna Schmiedlova or Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.

Read more on:    australian open  |  maria sharapova  |  tennis

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