Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Maria Sharapova nearly has quick exit on first day


The French Open started on a Sunday for the first time and nearly ended quickly for Maria Sharapova.

The former Wimbledon champion overcame a gimpy foot, a 5-2 deficit in the third set and three match points to beat Mashona Washington 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.

The match was the first since April 1 for Sharapova, who withdrew from two events leading up to Roland Garros because of a right ankle injury. Her movement was clearly hampered, even after a trainer rewrapped the ankle following the second set.

But the 29-year-old Washington, who came into the tournament ranked 97th, failed to close out a win that would have been the biggest of her career. Sharapova won the final five games to limp into the second round.

Roland Garros added a 15th day of play this year to extend into a third weekend, and like Sharapova, top-ranked Roger Federer struggled with the early start. He lost his first two service games to fall behind 3-0, then gradually found his form and beat qualifier Diego Hartfield 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-2.

Federer, beginning his bid for the only Grand Slam title he has yet to win, needed more than 2 1/2 hours to eliminate an Argentine making his tour-level debut.

"I prefer easy matches," Federer said. "It's always easier when you aren't under pressure, which was my case today, as everybody expected me to win."

Federer said he asked not to play the first day, but officials turned him down.

"I didn't want to be the guy who starts the tournament," he said. "You play Sunday, first up, you feel like the tournament hasn't even started yet, and right away you're challenged. It's not easy."

Top-ranked Amelie Mauresmo of France pleased a partisan crowd by beating Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4, 6-4. Mauresmo celebrated with a leaping fist pump when she broke serve in the next-to-last game, then finished with her eighth ace.

"It's satisfactory for the first round, even if it was not the match of the century," said Mauresmo, who has never made the semifinals at Roland Garros. "I know everybody is expecting me to do well. I hope to do well, too. I'm going to try and enjoy myself and see where it leads me."

No. 14 Dinara Safina, No. 22 Ai Sugiyama and No. 25 Marion Bartoli also advanced.

Juan Antonio Marin fell to 0-17 in Grand Slam events -- the worst record in the Open Era -- when he lost to Carlos Moya 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. Kenneth Carlsen's losing streak at Roland Garros reached nine consecutive matches, dating back to 1995, when he was beaten by Tim Henman, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

No. 3-seeded David Nalbandian needed nearly three hours to defeat Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-4. No. 7 Tommy Robredo swept Tomas Zib 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Play began under overcast skies, but the center-court stands were sun-splashed and mostly full when the Federer-Hartfield match started.

"I have no idea how he plays," Federer said shortly beforehand. "But I'm as prepared as I can be. I hope no surprises."

The start turned out be a stunner: Federer committed 13 unforced errors in the first six games and fell behind 5-3.

"Obviously not a good start, and try not to panic," Federer said. "He played very well in the beginning and made it hard for me."

Hartfield, ranked 156th, has spent the past seven years on tennis' minor-league circuits. He never previously faced a player ranked higher than 95th and took the court figuring he had nothing to lose.

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