Serves serve Sharapova well in three-set win

Little went right the last time Maria Sharapova played on Arthur Ashe Stadium. She littered the largest court in tennis with 21 double faults and 63 unforced errors en route to a three-set loss against Melanie Oudin in the 2009 US Open third round.

Back on Ashe Tuesday, Sharapova turned the statistical tables on Jarmila Groth to sneak through a first-round battle, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. The 2006 champion hit just two double faults and 17 unforced errors to the Aussie's 14 doubles and 48 mistakes.

"I did a really good job of hitting some great second serves when I needed to," said Sharapova. "Especially in the third set, I wasn't getting too many first serves in, but I hurt her from my second serve. That was one of the shots that won me the match today."

Groth fought power with power in the first set, fearlessly forcing Sharapova out of her comfort zone by punishing returns deep down the middle of the court.

She earned her first break point of the match by hitting a return with so much depth and pace that Sharapova couldn't get her body around the ball, which flew straight into her foot. Groth followed by flattening back-to-back forehands to take a 2-0 lead, which she then stretched to 3-0.

"She came out today and really swung and didn't give me much time to do anything out there," said Sharapova. "She served really well in the first set. I wasn't returning that well, giving her a lot of looks on second serves. Against a player like that, who kind of plays the one-two, punch type of tennis, it's quite difficult to get a rhythm in the beginning."

To Sharapova's credit, she rebounded from her three-game deficit by hitting four unreturnable serves in the fourth game and five in the sixth. She broke back for 4-5, but conceded the set on serve under the immense pressure of Groth's remarkable return game.

At 4-5, 30-30, Groth followed a well-struck inside-out backhand return by hitting behind Sharapova with a second inside-out backhand for a winner. With a set point in hand, the Slovakian-born Australian took Sharapova's 96 mile-per-hour second serve and unloaded a forehand return past the Russian.

But a year after Sharapova blew a one-set lead by dishing out double faults on end, it was Groth that got the yips on her serve in the latter stages. She hit 12 of her 14 double faults in the final two sets, and most came at crucial stages.

Groth doubled to be broken in the first game of the second set, conceding any momentum she had from the first set. After Sharapova earned a set point with a down-the-line backhand winner, Groth double-faulted again to allow Sharapova to even the match. After saving four break points to start the third set, Groth gave Sharapova an insurmountable 3-1 lead with - what else? - a double fault.

Having been on the donating side of double faults just one year ago, Sharapova is proud to persevere any way she can.

"Days like this, where your opponent was playing really well, you really have to find ways to hang in there and ways to fight," said Sharapova. "At the end of the day, you just hope you give yourself another opportunity."

Match Facts
- Both Sharapova and Groth made 55 percent of their first serves.

- Sharapova hit seven aces and two double faults, while Groth hit six aces and 14 double faults.

- Since winning the 2006 US Open, Sharapova has not made it back to the Round of 16.

- Groth reached the Round of 16 at the French Open and Wimbledon, and was the MVP of World TeamTennis this season.


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