Maria Sharapova recovered from a slow start yesterday to advance to the quarter-finals of the Pan Pacific Open with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over compatriot Alisa Kleybanova.
The former top-ranked Russian, who has been struggling since returning from a 10-month injury layoff, will face Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals on Thursday. Benesova defeated Taiwan’s Chang Kai-chan 7-5, 6-2.
Previously unknown at the top of the world rankings, Chang said yesterday that beating world No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia in the Pan Pacific Open had boosted her confidence.
The 18-year-old, ranked 132nd in the world, nevertheless said that she still had far to go to sharpen her skills and gain experience.
“For me, all parts of my game — strategy and mental — still need to improve,” said Chang, who sank Safina 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 7-5 on Monday in a second-round shocker.
“I came from qualifiers and beat the No. 1 in the world. I am pretty happy about that,” she said.
Chang is so new to the international scene that journalists at a press conference after her match against Benesova had to ask her where she started playing tennis and where she now trains.
Chang won two qualifiers and beat Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, ranked 48th, in the first round of the main draw before facing first-seeded Safina, who received a first-round bye.
Sharapova, 25th in the world rankings, took control of the match in the second set when she broke Kleybanova three times to open up a 5-0 lead. Kleybanova broke back in the sixth game and held before Sharapova served to win the set.
“She started off really strong,” Sharapova said. “I was too slow in the beginning. Nobody had much of a warmup today, we kind of had to warm up in the first few games and she did a much better job of that than me.”
The 22-year-old called coach Michael Joyce on court for advice at the end of the set before storming through the second to level the match and turn the tide in her favor.
Pumping up the volume as the ferocity of her hitting increased, Sharapova secured the crucial break at 2-2 in the decider by smashing a forehand return across court.
The three-times grand slam winner sealed victory with a vicious kick serve that bamboozled Kleybanova and celebrated by blowing kisses to all corner of the crowd.
“Michael’s come on court a few times this year,” said Sharapova, referring to the on-court coaching rule approved for this season by the WTA Tour.
“I use it to give me a little boost of energy, not change anything drastically,” she said. “He just gave me a few pointers. It pumps you up a little bit, gives you that fresh breath of air.”
Sharapova, who broke the unseeded Kleybanova three more times in the final set before closing out the match, won her first tournament as a professional at the Japan Open in 2003 and won in Tokyo in 2005.
With the top six seeds all out of the tournament, she is positioned well for another shot at a title in the US$2 million tournament at Ariake Colosseum.
“Some of the other girls not in the top 10 have played really well here,” Sharapova said. “You’ve got to expect that from every player you play and focus on the task at hand.”
Jelena Jankovic of Serbia advanced when Russia’s Elena Vesnina was forced to retire with a left thigh injury.
Jankovic, the tournament’s seventh-seeded player, was leading 6-1, 3-0 when the third-round match was stopped.
Jankovic is the highest seeded player in the tournament but said she won’t allow that to add to the pressure of winning here for the first time.
“I don’t really think about that,” Jankovic said. “I just think about my game and what I have to do on the court. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.”
Former world No. 1 Jankovic will meet France’s Marion Bartoli in the quarter-finals today. Fourteenth-seeded Bartoli recovered from a set down to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Jankovic has lost to Bartoli twice this year, at the Australian Open and at Stanford.
Magdalena Rybarikova defeated Aleksandra Wozniak 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
AFP, KUALA LUMPUR
Fifth seed Gael Monfils and fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet both overcame jetlag to bolt into the second round of the Malaysian Open yesterday with straight sets success.
Monfils, trying to back up the title he won last weekend in Metz, France before boarding a flight to Kuala Lumpur, dispatched Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/2).
The unseeded Gasquet was relentless against Romanian Victor Crivoi 6-1, 6-2. The No. 47 moved into a struggle for the quarter-finals when he plays in the second round against Joacham Johansson after the Swede upset eighth seed Lleyton Hewitt.
Gasquet said he had to fight through his fatigue after the flight from Europe.
“I played a good match despite waking up at 2am,” he said. “I haven’t adapted to the time change, but I hope tonight I can sleep better.”
Monfils spent just over 90 minutes in getting past Istomin, ranked 94th. The French seed, ranked 13th, improved to 29-13 on the season as he next faces Argentine Martin Vassello Arguello.
Monfils, 23, fired nine aces in his victory over Istomin.
Later yesterday, Mikhail Youzhny of Russia beat Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-2, 6-3, while Robin Soderling of Sweden defeated Brendan Evans of the US 6-1, 6-1. Nikolay Davydenko of Russia struggled to beat Taylor Dent of the US 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 (4).
Second seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain is due to play today.
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