MELBOURNE (AFP) – Second seed Maria Sharapova flirted with disaster Wednesday as rising stars Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Romania’s Simona Halep strolled into the Australian Open third round.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova of Russia survived two match points after wilting in the Melbourne Park heat, while third seed Halep and Bouchard, seeded seven, shrugged off the gruelling conditions for easy wins.
Sharapova 27, entered the tournament in sizzling form talking about seizing the world number one ranking off top seed Serena Williams, who plays her second-round match on Thursday.
But she was lucky to survive 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 against the gutsy Alexandra Panova, who refused to be intimidated and took the fight to her illustrious fellow Russian.
Sharapova, who has a history of struggling in the Australian heat, faded in the second set, appearing red-faced and flustered.
She was hurtling towards the brink at 4-1 in the third before her renowned fighting qualities finally kicked in.
The reigning French Open champion clawed her way back and fended off two match points, taking five consecutive games to seal the victory.
“I was one point away from being out of this tournament twice today and not playing my best tennis, so I’m just happy I was able to win that last point,” she said. “I pulled through, I guess at this point that’s what matters,
However, her shaky performance — which included a whopping 51 unforced errors and six double faults — is unlikely to have her rivals quaking in their boots.
Sharapova faces Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, the world number 31, in the third round.