Top seed Maria Sharapova began her quest for the only Grand Slam to have eluded her with an unconvincing display over fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina in the first round of the French Open.
Sharapova took almost two and a half hours to get the better of her lowly ranked opponent 6-1 3-6 8-6 in a strangely subdued performance to struggle into the second round.
As the sun finally shone on Roland Garros, it all seemed to be going Sharapova’s way on the Philippe Chatrier court as she cruised to the first set 6-1 in under thirty minutes despite dropping her serve in the second game. However, all that was to change at the start of the second as, with neither player playing particularly well, Rodina took advantage of an increasing number of errors to break Sharapova and hold onto her own serve to maintain the advantage.
Games continued to go with serve until 3-5 when Sharapova, struggling with her serve in the blustery conditions, served her twelfth double fault to give Rodina set point. With Sharapova making a rare foray to the net Rodina held her nerve and passed her with a forehand winner to take the set in 51 minutes.
Rodina began the third set by holding her serve comfortably as Sharapova continued to look out of sorts. Currently ranked 103 in the world, 19 year old Rodina showed no sign of nerves as she held comfortably while Sharapova seemed to have all kinds of trouble with her own serve.
Rodina appeared to be suffering from cramp at the end of the third set but battled on and even had break points for a 5-3 lead in the decider, but Sharapova managed to hang on to level at 4-4.
The world number one’s experience finally told as she finally broke Rodina at 6-6 in the third set and served the match out to win 8-6.
Afterwards Sharapova acknowledged that she had had a lucky escape. “I was very close to losing this match,” she admitted, “She served well after the first set and I didn’t break her until the end of the third set. Not many things were working for me today after the first set. I just hung in there. Usually I'm a pretty good wind player. I adjust very well, because maybe 95% of the time my ball goes through the wind. And when you are there out there and you're playing 14-and-under tennis and you're pushing the balls, then you create many problems. You start thinking your opponent is doing something out of the ordinary. Well, what she's doing is she's making you hit another ball and she's forcing you to hit an error. You start thinking and you are becoming tentative and you're not playing your game. Look, I've played in a lot of matches where it's been windy, and I've been successful in many of them. These are just days where you're not playing your best tennis. At the end of the day, you're fortunate to get through the match. Because realistically, I don't know if there's any way down from here.”
Sharapova will face American Bethanie Mattek in the second round.