Sharapova returns to US Open with easy victory

Sharapova returns to US Open with easy victory


Maria Sharapova of Russia blows a kiss to the crowd after beating Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, 6-3, 6-0 during their match at the US Open tennis tournament in New York on Tuesday. AP

Several hours after her Russian compatriot Dinara Safina went perilously close to becoming the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the Open, 2006 champion Sharapova gave a much stronger performance yesterday.

The three-time Grand Slam titlist produced 29 winners - 23 more than her 98th-ranked opponent.

Sharapova showed no signs of the shoulder tear that forced her to have surgery in October and kept her off the tour for nearly 10 months.

"This is a Grand Slam. You've got to get going from the first match," Sharapova said. "After being gone, this is what it's all about."

In addition to the tennis skills and grit that once took her to No. 1 in the rankings, Sharapova always has placed an emphasis on fashion. On this night, her black dress carried bold, metallic accents, paired with a matching, '60s-style silver headband to create an outfit she described as a tribute to New York's skyline.

Former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, seeded 11th, was bundled out in the first round by 52nd-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7).

The Serbian player had the worst showing ever by a top-seeded woman in New York last year when she exited in the second round. Ivanovic went one worse this time.

"It hurts. I can tell you that," Ivanovic said. "I'm sure I will have sleepless nights."

At least the 2008 French Open champion had a big support group in the stands, cheering for her wildly. Safina, by contrast, would look up at her coach for positive body language, and instead, he'd cover his eyes with his hands or turn his head with a wince.

"Well," Safina would say later, "I guess I had to think: 'What I'm doing wrong?'"

There's been some debate this season about whether Safina deserves the top ranking, one spot ahead of Serena Williams. The Russian did not bolster her case on Tuesday.

Nearly undone by 11 double-faults and 48 total unforced errors, Safina was a point away from a 4-0 deficit in the third set before coming back to beat Olivia Rogowska of Australia 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4.

Safina, younger sister of 2000 US Open champion Marat Safin, is used to faring well in the early stages of Grand Slam tournaments. Usually, it's later on that problems arise: She is winless in three major finals, all lopsided losses, and she managed to win only one game against Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals in July.

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