Sharapova survives Aussie Open meltdown
MELBOURNE - Agence France-Presse
Maria Sharapova of Russia serves to compatriot Alexandra Panova during their women's singles second round match at the Australian Open 2015 tennis tournament in Melbourne January 21, 2015. REUTERS PhotoSecond seed Maria Sharapova staged an epic comeback in the Melbourne Park heat on Jan. 21 after Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova pushed her to the brink of a humiliating second round exit.
The five-time Grand Slam champion saved two match points and had to draw on all her big-match experience to eventually down an opponent ranked number 150 in the world 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 after two hours 46 minutes.
Sharapova was left struggling for positives after her unknown compatriot left her red-faced and flustered in a centre court match she was expected to breeze through.
"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.
"I pulled through, I guess at this point that's what matters, Certainly it gives me a lot amount of confidence that I didn't play my best and was able to come through. Sometimes that's good."
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.
Sharapova said Panova, 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, rather than deplete the energy banks as she heads into a gruelling Grand Slam campaign.
"I guess we'll see, I hope that's the plan. I didn't actually want to be out here for two-and-a-half hours but that's sometimes the way it goes," she said.
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 went long, 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.
The nightmare continued in the deciding set's opening game when she double faulted and gifted a break to Panova.
Her attempts to attack Panova's serve lacked venom and she looked set for an early shower as the qualifier snatched another break to make it 4-1.
"I was dwelling too much on my mistakes, what I was doing wrong, not really being in the present, something that I'm usually really good at." she said.
"I just tried to take it a point at a time, think positively, and change my thought process a little." Sharapova's renowned fighting qualities finally resurfaced and she broke back, holding her own serve then fending off two match points to level at 5-5 to prevent Panova from serving out for victory.
The wily world number two then held Panova to love and went onto make it five consecutive games to seal the win.
Sharapova faces Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in the third round.