Sharapova shakes, bakes

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – A rash of errors and a broiling sun left Maria Sharapova delusional, ailing and on the ropes.

But the top-seeded Russian showed plenty of fortitude, overcoming stomach cramps and a gritty opponent Tuesday to reach the second round of the Australian Open.

With temperatures hitting 104 and soaring to 116 on court, Sharapova escaped with a 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 victory over France’s Camille Pin. Even Sharapova’s high-pitched grunts lost their force amid the swelter, as did her groundstrokes.

“It’s inhumanly possible to play three hours in that kind of heat,” said Sharapova, seeking her third Grand Slam title and second straight. “I don’t think our bodies were made to do that. I was so delusional I couldn’t think.”

She said the thought of retiring never crossed her mind.

“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I’m not just going to stop because of the heat.”

The tournament’s “extreme heat policy” was invoked halfway through her match. No new matches were allowed to start on outside courts, and the roofs were closed on the two show courts once the ongoing matches were finished.

Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian grew stronger in the heat as Janko Tipsarevic wilted, but was critical that some matches continued while others were delayed. Tipsarevic faltered while serving for the match, then retired because of heat exhaustion with Nalbandian leading 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0, 2-1.

France’s Sebastien Grosjean, a quarterfinalist or better at four of the last six Australian Opens, led Christophe Rochus 6-2, 4-1 when the Belgian retired because of breathing difficulties.

Playing indoors, second-seeded Rafael Nadal overcame American Robert Kendrick 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2; No. 4 Kim Clijsters, retiring at the end of the year to start a family, routed Vasilisa Bardina 6-0, 6-0 in 44 minutes; and No. 6 Martina Hingis, a three-time Australian winner, beat Nathalie Dechy of France 6-0, 6-2.

Fifth-seeded James Blake ousted Spain’s Carlos Moya 7-6 (8), 6-2, 6-4, beating the former world No. 1 for the second time since Saturday, when they met in the final of the Sydney International.

Another former No. 1 had better luck. No. 19 Lleyton Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion whose coach quit two weeks ago and had played only two singles matches since September because of injuries, showed his fighting spirit as he rallied to beat American qualifier Michael Russell 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Britain’s Andy Murray, seeded 15th, won 6-0, 6-0, 6-1 over Spain’s Alberto Martin, who avoided the embarrassment of a shutout by holding his last service game at 0-5 in the third. There never has been a triple bagel in Melbourne in the Open era.

Third-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, on court once the heat policy was lifted after nearly eight hours, beat Argentina’s Sergio Roitman 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.

Sharapova-Pin appeared to be a mismatch. Pin, mostly a retriever, has reached the second round only twice in 15 majors. But Sharapova committed 24 unforced errors in the first seven games alone. The reigning U.S. Open champion frequently sought refuge in the shade between points, sometimes forcing Pin to wait to serve.

“In the middle of the second set I started getting some pinches in my abdominal muscle,” she said. “It didn’t happen while I was hitting a stroke and it didn’t feel like a cramp, so I kind of played with it.”

The heat policy allows for 10-minute breaks between sets for matches already under way. Sharapova came out rejuvenated, her grunts back in full force as she ripped winners and dropped only four points in the first five games of the final set.

Then Pin ran off five straight games to tie it, Sharapova’s shoulders drooping with each error and the crowd cheering lustily for the heavy underdog. Sharapova slumped into her chair during changeovers, barely moving, a large bag of ice draped over her neck. And the cramps were back and getting worse.

“It was hard to think about what you were going to do on court. You were mentally trying to find a way to make the point shorter, to find a way to win,” the 19-year-old star said. “It was hard for me, it was hard for my opponent.”

She held for 6-5, but appeared ready to get sick at any second, once stopping her service motion to grab her left hip and grimace. Sharapova called for the trainer and squandered her third match point as Pin served in the next game. But at 7-7, Sharapova found some inner reserve, running off the last eight points. Kendrick gave Nadal trouble for a set with his serve and deft volleys. But Nadal’s passing shots then had the American diving all over the court.

There was a great exchange at the net in the second set when Nadal kept picking up Kendrick’s volleys, then punched one into the open court for a winner. Kendrick tossed his racket across the net in frustration, and it bounced and caught Nadal lightly on the legs. Nadal went on to break for the first time.

Robby Ginepri advanced in five sets over Nicolas Almagro, seeded 32nd. Seeded men winning included No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 12 Tommy Haas, No. 13 Tomas Berdych, No. 17 Jarkko Nieminen, No. 21 Dmitry Tursunov and No. 31 Stanislas Wawrinka.

Winners on the women’s side included 12th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze, No. 13 Ana Ivanovic, No. 24 Samantha Stosur, No. 29 Alona Bondarenko and No. 30 Tathiana Garbin.

No. 32 Eleni Danilidou was ousted by Japan’s Aiko Nakamura.

AP-ES-01-16-07 0951EST

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