Maria Sharapova barely survived to advance to the third round at the Australian Open. After an amazing first set, the second set was forced to fight back to win the match, 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 against qualifier Alexandra Panova.
“I’m just happy to get through,” she explained. “I was two points from being out of the tournament. Just didn’t play my best today. I think she played a pretty inspired match.”
The first set took her only 26 minutes to finish. She was settled, focused, and in complete control with nine winners and eight unforced errors. But something changed in the second set because Panova found her groove, which kept everyone glued to the TV screens.
Only 50% of Sharapova’s first serves went in and she committed 23 unforced errors to 14 by Panova. With each loss, Sharapova moved to the baseline a tad slower and her shoulders lower. Her infamous grunts and screams were louder. Panova kept her cool even though she tied it 1-1 with the second seed.
Panova quickly went up 4-1 on Sharapova in the third set. The 25-year-old was as cool as Sharapova continued to melt down. Her face crumbled on the verge of tears while her body language said, “I give up!” Something changed. Maybe she remembered she is Maria Sharapova and needs less than 700 points to swipe the first spot from American Serena Williams. She came back to 5-4, but Panova received a match point and Sharapova went into beast mode. She smashed the ball right down the line and barely kept it in so Panova did not have a chance to return it.
A fist pump and the look of determination returned to Sharapova’s face. She faced another match point, but her forehand put a stop to it. Panova broke down once the real Sharapova returned from the dark corners.
“I like winning more than I like losing!” she told the media.