Sharapova survives Petrova scare

PARIS: Maria Sharapova battled into the French Open last 32 today as Roland Garros glanced the future of women’s tennis in the shape of high-volume, big-hitting, 16-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito.

Triple Grand Slam title winner Sharapova, playing only her second tournament following a 10-month lay-off to recover from shoulder surgery, shook off the cobwebs with a bruising 6-2, 1-6, 8-6 win over Russian compatriot Nadia Petrova. The former world number one, whose world ranking has slumped to 102 as a consequence of her lengthy absence, will now face Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova for a place in the last 16.

Also eyeing a run to the last eight is confident de Brito who only turned

16 in January. Grand Slam debutant de Brito, ranked 132, came through qualifying and made sure of a place in the last 32 with a 6-4, 6-3 win over China’s 15th seed Zheng Jie, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last year.

De Brito, with her flowing all-court game and deafening decibel level, simply had too much firepower for her opponent and now goes on to face France’s Aravane Rezai for a place in the last 16.

In the midst of Sharapova’s heroics and de Brito’s performance, defending champion Ana Ivanovic slipped quietly into the next round with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn. Next up for the Serbian eighth seed is Czech left-hander Iveta Benesova.

British third seed Andy Murray battled into the last 32 by overcoming a stern test from Italian world 104 Potito Starace before prevailing 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4. The 22-year-old Scotsman had to come back from 1-5 down in the third set, saving two set points, before eventually cruising to a comfortable victory as he matched his best career performance here. Murray next faces Janko Tipsarevic who put out Spanish 28th seed Feliciano Lopez.

France’s Fabrice Santoro, playing his 20th and last Roland Garros, was beaten 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 by Belgium’s Christophe Rochus in a first-round match held over from Tuesday because of bad light.

Women’s top seed Dinara Safina enjoyed another French Open breeze, defeating teenage compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko 6-1, 6-1 to set up a last 32 clash with another Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Safina took just 55 minutes to dispose the18-year-old qualifier Diatchenko.

The win was Safina’s 16th in 17 matches since she became world No 1 in April. Pavlyuchenkova, the 27th seed, reached the last 32 with a 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) win over France’s Julie Coin.

On Tuesday, World No 2 Serena Williams endured an almighty struggle to win her first claycourt match in 12 months. Williams, the second seed and 2002 champion, spurned eight match points en route to a 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 victory over Czech Klara Zakopalova.

French ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 11th-seeded compatriot Gael Monfils, as well as Spanish 16th seed Tommy Robredo, also made it through. But American 15th seed James Blake was knocked out by Argentine qualifier Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (8/6), 7-5, 6-2.