Thu, Aug 30, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Sharapova thrashes Vinci to begin US Open defense

AFP , NEW YORK

PHOTO: REUTERS

Maria Sharapova opened the defense of her US Open crown in commanding style on Tuesday by overpowering Italy's Roberta Vinci 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour.

The Russian No. 2 seed showed no signs of the shoulder and shin injuries that have dogged her this year as she outgunned her opponent from the first exchanges and pocketed the first set in just 23 minutes.

It was more of the same in the second set as the 20-year-old Russian unleashed all her firepower on her shell-shocked opponent.

It was all over in 50 minutes, sending Sharapova into a second round tie against Australian Casey Dellacqua.

"It's great to be back, to step onto this court at night -- just feel the vibes and be on the center court again," she said.

"Every corner I turn here I get goosebumps," she said.

"When you come back to the place you won your second major, its incredible," she said. "And to come in to defend my title when I am healthy, that's the best part."

There were also straight-sets wins for two former New York champions, Martina Hingis (1997) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004).

In the men's tournament, Novak Djokovic of Serbia and home hopes James Blake and Andy Roddick kick-started their US Open campaigns with straight-sets wins.

Sixth-seeded Blake, who is in the same half of the draw as favorite Roger Federer, had too much firepower for veteran compatriot Michael Russell, winning 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).

Third seeded Djokovic, who could meet Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals for the third straight Grand Slam, disposed of Dutch player Robin Haase 6-2, 6-1, 6-3.

Roddick, the No. 5 seed, defeated Justin Gimelstob 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 6-3 in an entertaining curtain-call for the second day's play.

Other seeds to go through in a day largely devoid of upsets were 12th seed Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, who defeated Kristof Vliegen of Belgium 6-1, 7-6 (7/1), 6-1 and 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, who outclassed Amer Delic of the US 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Djokovic came into New York being touted as the new "third force" in men's tennis following his tremendous back-to-back wins over Nadal and Federer at the Montreal Masters.

"It's always good to get the first match done in the fastest possible way," the 20-year-old said.

"I was playing against a lucky loser but I did not want to underestimate my opponent and I was even a little bit nervous at the start," he said.

"In Montreal I played the best tennis in my life and now I have more confidence and belief that I can do well in the Grand Slams at the US Open," he said.

Djokovic's possible fourth-round opponent is Hewitt, who was equally impressive blasting past US player Delic.

The Australian, who is battling to get back into the world top 10 after a long struggle with injuries, said he was happy to be fully fit again.

"It just makes it a lot easier when you know the body is going to hold up out there -- not having niggling injuries every second week," he said.

Blake took 2 hours 41 minutes to subdue Russell and had to come from behind in two tie-breaks.

"I'm playing some of my best tennis right now and I'm coming in here very confident," he said.

"It's one of those things where for me when I'm winning a lot of matches the way I have been," he said. "I just feel like I'm going to win them."

Next up for Blake is French veteran Fabrice Santoro, who equalled Andre Agassi's Open-era record number of Grand Slam events played in (61) when he played and won in four sets against Spain's Albert Montanes.

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