Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Sharapova outlasts Pin, 36°C heat for victory

AP , MELBOURNE

Maria Sharapova returns the ball against Camille Pin in their first-round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne Park on Tuesday. Sharapova won 6-3, 4-6, 9-7.

PHOTO: EPA

No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova avoided a stunning collapse in the third set, overcoming the mind-altering heat and her own mistakes to beat Camille Pin 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 yesterday in the first round of the Australian Open.

The temperature, which was 36°C and rising at midday, forced tournament officials to suspend new matches on the outside courts for at least four hours.

While that didn't save Sharapova and Pin from almost three hours in the blazing sun, it meant second-ranked Rafael Nadal had the roof closed for the following match on center court. Nadal won 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 over US player Robert Kendrick.

Sharapova, her screeching intensifying as the temperature and the pressure increased, won five straight games to open the third set. Then she hit a wall.

"I was so delusional I couldn't think," she said. "It was hard to think about what you were going to do on court because you were just mentally trying to find a way to kind of make the points shorter and basically trying to find a way to win"

As Pin ran off five straight games to tie it up, Sharapova's shoulders drooped with each error.

She held for 6-5, but appeared ready to be sick at any moment.

Sharapova barely moved between points, conserving energy. She squandered her third match point as Pin served the next game.

Then Sharapova was broken again, allowing Pin to serve for the match.

Sharapova got back on serve when Pin double-faulted on break point to make it 7-7, then won the next eight points to end the match.

Did she ever think of retiring?

"No. Definitely not," she said. "I'm not a quitter. I'm not just going to stop because of the heat."

Nadal took just more than two hours to beat Kendrick, who forced him to five sets at Wimbledon last year after taking a 2-0 lead.

This time, Kendrick didn't get a break point against the muscular Spaniard. Nadal got one service break in the second set and two in the third, limiting his errors to 14 against 43 by Kendrick.

Kendrick threw everything at Nadal, going for all his shots, lunging and diving all over the court. Kendrick even tossed his racket over the net after an exchange of volleys in the middle of the second set.

Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian grew stronger in the heat as Janko Tipsarevic wilted, but was critical of the officials' decision to keep some matches going while others were delayed.

Tipsarevic retired with heat exhaustion in the fifth -- more than 90 minutes after he wasted his chance at serving for the match -- with Nalbandian leading 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0, 2-1.

Of the effect of the heat, Nalbandian said: "I [thought I] was in the plane back home."

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