Sharapova sidesteps disaster

Wimbledon champion comes within one game of falling in first round

U.S. Open

September 01, 2004|By Jeff Williams | Jeff Williams,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - It was a night of firsts for Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open. It was her first match on the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court. It was her first singles match in the U.S. Open as the reigning Wimbledon champion. But most memorable and most important, it was her first escape from a hungry Open underdog.

Laura Granville came out nipping at Sharapova's heels last night, fighting for every point. No Wimbledon women's champion had ever lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, a cold fact that Granville came so close to rewriting. In the end, Sharapova reached down for whatever extra she had, and it made for an exciting 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 victory.

She may be tennis' newest darling, but Sharapova is not New York's newest sweetheart. Sharapova may be thoroughly American, but she's not a thoroughbred one. The crowd pulled for the scrappy American, at first so that they could get their three sets of tennis, and then because Granville's steady, sturdy game had a certain charm.

Her performance certainly belied her record. Eleven times this year, Granville had lost in the first round of a tournament. Only three times in her career had she beaten anyone in the top 20. She made it to her first final of a WTA event in Vancouver this year, against a weak field.

Now here she was, giving the Open's seventh seed all the trouble she could handle in a first-round match. Sharapova would particularly rue her failure to convert any of three break points she had on Granville in the third game of the second set. Granville did not miss on the second of her break-point opportunities in the 12th game, winning a long rally when Sharapova made a forehand error.

It looked as if Sharapova might make a run from the start of the third set, when she broke Granville in the first game, then Granville broke back. This race was going down to the end, a third set that delighted the crowd and pulled them decidedly to Granville's side.

With Granville holding serve for 5-4, a shocking defeat or a shocking victory on the line (take your choice), the tall and talented Russian found that extra gear that special players seem to have. She held serve easily for 5-5 and broke Granville in four points for 6-5. She served her 10th ace for 40-15 in the 12th game, and closed out the match with another strong serve that handcuffed Granville and ended a surprising 2-hour, 9-minute tussle.

"I went to la-la land for a while," Sharapova said. "It's all about the spirit and getting through."

The statistics show how a match evens out. Sharapova had 35 winners to Granville's 14. Granville committed 27 unforced errors to Sharapova's 44. Sharapova had 10 aces to Granville's two. Granville had four double faults to Sharapova's eight. But in the end, Sharapova won 103 points to Granville's 90, and dominated the match in the crucial end game.

Sharapova wasn't the only top player pushed to the limit on Day 2 at Flushing Meadows: 2000 Open winner Marat Safin and 11th-seeded Rainer Schuettler lost, while 2003 runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 5 Tim Henman both needed five sets to advance.

Safin, Schuettler and Ferrero were put in the same quarter of the draw as 2003 champion Andy Roddick, who followed Sharapova in Arthur Ashe Stadium and broke the tournament record with a 152-mph serve during a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 victory over 17-year-old Scoville Jenkins.

One indication of how players slide from star to afterthought: While Sharapova was on the National Tennis Center's main stage, 2000-01 Open champ Venus Williams was in the last day-session match on another court.

Made to wait until after 8:30 p.m. to play, because she was scheduled to hit the court after Henman and Ferrero, Williams was broken while serving for the match but eventually pulled out a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over 64th-ranked Petra Mandula of Hungary.

Defending U.S. Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne found herself in some trouble, trailing 15-year-old Nicole Vaidisova 4-1 in the second set. But the top-ranked Belgian won the last five games to close out her 6-1, 6-4 victory.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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