Maria Sharapova shook off some inconsistent play to beat Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-1, in the first round of the WTA Premier Bank of the West Classic on Monday.
The 62nd-ranked Sharapova, working her way back from right shoulder surgery, avoided losing her first match in a tournament since Oct. 8, 2007, in Moscow to Victoria Azarenka. She has not lost a first-round match since Aug. 11, 2003, to Elena Likhovtseva in Toronto.
Sharapova recovered from a 4-0 deficit in the first set, but then allowed a 5-2 lead in the second set to get away before dominating the third set.
Sugiyama and Sharapova were scheduled to meet in Montreal last July before the former world No. 1 withdrew with her injury and sat out the next nine months.
Sharapova has won 12 of her 16 matches this year, and is 44-8 since the beginning of last year.
Fourth-ranked and third-seeded Elena Dementieva beat 54th-ranked Anne Keothavong of Britain 6-1, 6-4, in their first-round match.
Dementieva spent most of her off time at home in Moscow, leaving the marathon loss to Serena Williams in the semi-finals at Wimbledon far behind.
The time off and the long flight from Russia gave Dementieva problems in the second set. She was up 5-1 and then struggled to hold off the feisty Keothavong, who is looking to reach her first career WTA Tour final after 17 ITF championships.
In other first-round matches, seventh-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland beat Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, 6-0, 6-1; and Monica Niculescu of Romania beat the US’ Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-1, 6-0.
■LOS ANGELES OPEN
AP, LOS ANGELES
Jesse Levine beat fellow American Bobby Reynolds 6-2, 6-3 on Monday in the opening round of the Los Angeles Tennis Open.
Levine won for the sixth time in nine matches, and will face top-seeded Tommy Haas in the second round today.
In other first round matches, Australian Chris Guccione beat Kevin Kim of the US, 6-1, 6-4, and Robert Kendrick overwhelmed fellow American Vince Spadea, 6-0, 6-0.
If he advances further, Levine could have a rematch with Marat Safin for the first time since beating him in the opening round at Wimbledon.
Safin, the No. 8 seed in this 28-player field that is void of any top 20 players, beat Pete Sampras later on Monday night in an exhibition rematch of their 2000 US Open final, which Safin won.
Safin won the exhibition 10-6 in a tiebreaker after they had split two sets. The Russian had said he wanted the match to be “all about fun. It’s not about to show to each other who is the best one and whatever. I know he was much better player than me.”
Sampras, who won this tournament twice, said he’d like to play an exhibition or a Seniors Tour match every three or four months, but he hoped it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that “I’m not quite as good as I used to be.”
The crowd didn’t seem to mind at all, cheering and groaning at all the appropriate moments during the fast-paced match.