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Maria Sharapova sidesteps big upset at Australian Open

Maria Sharapova of Russia makes a forehand return to compatriot Alexandra Panova. (Associated Press)
Maria Sharapova of Russia makes a forehand return to compatriot Alexandra Panova. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia – Maria Sharapova saved two match points in a narrow escape against No. 150-ranked Alexandra Panova at the Australian Open today in Australia, advancing to the third round with a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 win.

Second-seeded Sharapova made 51 unforced errors as she went for the lines, saving some of her high-risk winners for when she needed them most.

She faced two match points in the 10th game of the third set, ripping big forehand winners on both points against Panova, a qualifier who entered the Australian Open without a single match win at five majors.

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian Open and has five Grand Slam titles, struggled with her serve in the second and third sets as the match extended to 2 hours, 32 minutes in temperatures topping 91 degrees.

“I’m just happy to get through – I was one point away twice today from being out of the tournament,” said Sharapova, who started the season by winning the Brisbane International title. “I was not playing my best tennis today.

“I think she played a pretty inspired match. She came out here with not much to lose and swinging freely and going for her shots.”

Sharapova is the only Grand Slam champion in contention in her half of the draw.

In earlier second-round matches, No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova beat Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-4, No. 21 Peng Shuai had a 6-1, 6-1 win over Magdalena Rybarikova and Carina Witthoeft beat Christina McHale 6-3, 6-0.

On the men’s side, Andy Murray didn’t let the parochial crowds in Margaret Court Arena bother him as he beat Australian Marinko Matosevic 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.

Matosevic’s first-round opponent, Alexander Kudryavtsev, accused boisterous Australian fans of behaving like “animals” after losing in five sets to the Melbourne resident.

Seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych advanced with a 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-2 win over Austrian qualifier Jurgen Melzer.

Berdych, a Wimbledon finalist in 2010, lost to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals last year at Melbourne Park, where he has reached the quarters or better since 2011.

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