Top-seeded Maria Sharapova narrowly avoided a stunning third-set collapse, overcoming the soaring heat and her own mistakes to defeat Camille Pin, 6-3, 4-6, 9-7, in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
The heat — it was 97 degrees and muggy at midday — forced tournament officials to suspend play on the outside courts.
Sharapova, her screeching intensifying as the temperature and the pressure increased, won five straight games to open the third set before Pin rallied with five in a row, fending off match points in the eighth game, to tie score at 5-5.
Sharapova, after wasting another match point in the 12th game, was broken again and allowed Pin to serve for the match.
The 19-year-old Sharapova got back on serve when Pin double-faulted on breakpoint to make the score 7-7, then won the next 8 points to advance to end the match.
Sharapova had not lost in the first round at a major since her first two Grand Slam tournaments in 2003. She has reached the quarterfinals in nine of the last 11 Grand Slams, including her United States Open victory in September, the AP reports.
"In the second set, I was getting a stitch in my stomach," Sharapova explained afterwards in her on-court interview.
"I was getting cramps. I was drinking a lot of water . . . I got the trainer out . . . and I hope it’s nothing serious.
From 5-0, Sharapova allowed her nimble right-handed French opponent, who stands almost a foot shorter than the Russian pin-up, to reel off five straight games and square the ledger at 5-5.
The 25-year-old Frenchwoman also saved three match points at 3-5 and raced out to a 40-0 lead on Sharapova's serve in the ninth game.
Pin would win that game, too, despite a fightback to deuce by Sharapova and an unsuccessful lineball challenge on the Russian's first serve at 30-40.
The Frenchwoman then tightened on her own serve at 4-5, but scraped through unscathed to take the match far beyond where an exhausted and sweat-drenched Sharapova wanted it to go.
Sharapova finally got her side of the board ticking again by winning the 11th game to move ahead 6-5, and then elected to take an injury timeout to receive treatment to what appeared to be a problem with her right hip, and the abdominal muscles close by.
The Russian emerged from the break briefly revitalised, smashing some deep groundstrokes to both of Pin's wings, but more errors allowed Pin to stay in the game and take the match to 6-6.
The 13th game of the set saw Sharapova swiftly back on the canvas at 0-30, and looking as if the life had drained from her limbs. She was 0-40 down, wandering around in the shade at the back of the court, and after a weary double fault, Pin was belting the Russian into the ropes again and serving for the match at 7-6.
But it was then that Sharapova changed her focus, electing to simply put the ball in play and wait for Pin to make mistakes.
The tactic worked beautifully, and after breaking back, Sharapova won the final game of the match to love.
Sharapova has never made it past the semi-finals at Melbourne Park, and unless she can recover significantly from this sternest of tests quickly, she could fall before the showpiece final again, FOXSPORTS.com.au reports.
Also today, Argentina 's David Nalbandian stared into the abyss at two sets down before progressing when Janko Tipsarevic retired through heat exhaustion trailing 2-1 in the final set.
The eighth-seeded Nalbandian, a semifinalist last year, looked to be heading out as he struggled with a knee injury and an in-form world number 64, but he prevailed when the heat took its toll on the Serb with the score at 6-7 4-6 7-6 6-0 2-1 after three hours 19 minutes.
Nalbandian pulled out of the Kooyong Classic last week because of knee trouble and seemed to be in pain throughout the match, only looking a likely winner when he snatched the third set tiebreak.
Tipsarevic looked a spent force in the fourth set and finally called it a day when down a break at 2-1 in the fifth to hand the Argentine victory, Reuters reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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