NEW YORK - - Maria Sharapova came armed with her nerve and her serve Tuesday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Dressed asymmetrically in gauzy black, gray and white, and showing no evidence of an uncertain serve that has plagued her this summer, Sharapova dispatched Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-0, in 73 minutes.
Because Sharapova missed the first five months of this season while recovering from shoulder surgery last fall, the 22-year-old Russian is seeded only 29th. It is an unaccustomed place in the draw for Sharapova, who was once ranked No. 1.
Sharapova said she was particularly happy with how she attacked the match by moving forward. "It adds a little bit to my ground strokes."
Earlier in the day, there had been more angst than oohs and aahs, more unforced errors and double faults, more head-slapping, head-turning tennis awfulness than inspiration from top-ranked, top-seeded Dinara Safina.
At the end, it might have been cheers of pity rather than a roar of appreciation that the Russian heard, but Safina didn't care. She barely avoided becoming the first women's No. 1-seeded player to be a first-round loser at the Open with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 victory over Australian Olivia Rogowska.
It was as if Safina were using the stadium as a giant coaching and therapy session.
"If I would lose this match," she said, "it would be I lost to myself. It's me, myself and I playing on the court."
There was much less drama for two other Russians. Fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva and sixth-seeded and 2004 Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova each had straight-set wins. Dementieva next gets rising American star Melanie Oudin, 17.
Fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic (a semifinalist and runner up in his past two Opens) had an uneventful 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic. Djokovic's Serbian countrywoman Jana Jankovic, who is seeded fifth, also moved smoothly into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Italy's Roberta Vinci.
In the final night match, the second-seeded men's player, Andy Murray, defeated Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, 7-5, 6-3, 7-5. Murray took a hard fall and landed on his back in the third set but said he felt fine after the match.