Re: ** Masha News and Articles! ** Vol. 2
Maria Sharapova is not the top seed at this week's Bank of the West Classic, but she remains a top draw.
A near-capacity crowd of 3,580 showed up Tuesday night at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Stadium to watch one of the sport's biggest attractions continue her march toward the top once again.
Sharapova did not disappoint.
In a match that didn't lack for drama or a story line, Sharapova, seeded fifth, held off a hard-hitting Jie Zheng 6-4, 7-5.
"She's a great player," said Sharapova, who is ranked 15th. "She's a very good competitor. There is no doubt I had to be ready. I really had to be on the top of my game."
The match was Sharapova's first on a hard court since Indian Wells last spring, when Zheng defeated her in three sets and an elbow injury sent Sharapova to the sideline for six weeks. Sharapova called the match "scratchy," adding, "I wasn't feeling too good there."
Tuesday, in Sharapova's first match since a fourth-round loss to Serena Williams at Wimbledon last month, the 23rd-ranked Zheng gave the Russian all she could handle again, at times forcing the action by charging the net.
Sometimes that backfired — Sharapova nicely hit a few lobs for winners — but Zheng's grittiness made things interesting.
Still, Sharapova gave herself an opportunity to close out the match when she broke serve in the ninth game of the second set as Zheng hit a backhand long after a tense rally. But on match point in the next game, Sharapova double-faulted, and Zheng went on to even the set 5-5.
Sharapova responded by breaking serve again in the next game and then held to win the match, her 21st victory this year in 27 matches.
"I returned better when I had to," Sharapova said. "There was no choice. I couldn't rely on the serve the whole match. I don't think I took advantage enough on her serves, especially the second serve. That's something I'll want to improve going forward."
The first set was mostly routine, with both players holding serve through the first eight games. Then Sharapova raised her game, breaking serve at love for a 5-4 lead and then holding in the next game to win the set.
The second set for Sharapova was more tense, but the outcome was satisfying.
"My mentality is to keep going and keep fighting," said Sharapova, who last year at this time was coming back from a shoulder injury.
Sharapova will next play in the day session Thursday against Olga Govortsova.
Also Tuesday, eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka defeated Ayumi Morita 6-0, 6-2; No. 6 seed Shahar Peer rallied to oust Daniela Hantuchova 0-6, 6-4, 6-3.