Sharapova starts year with New Zealand victory


Auckland : Maria Sharapova survived a late change of opponent to advance to the second round of the ASB Classic as she defeated Italy’s Alberta Brianti 6-2, 6-3 Monday.

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The Russian who last struck a competitive ball in early October in Beijing before ending her season early, faced Brianti as original opponent Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain withdrew with an injury.

“This is the first tournament of the year for me so you are just
looking forward to whatever tournament you can play,” said Sharapova, currently ranked 18th after several years of shoulder injuries.

The top-seeded Russian was joined in the second round by third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, a winner over New Zealand’s 289th-ranked Sacha Jones 6-4, 6-2. Czech Renata Voracova beat Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino 4-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-0, while Peng Shuai of China advanced over Swede Johanna Larsson 6-1, 6-3.

Briton Anne Keothavong earned a comeback victory as she put out Edina Gallovits of Romania, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-0.

Sharapova has been in New Zealand since well before the New Year, preparing for her 2011 start and requested the opening day match to test her form. “My last tournament was over two months ago and it will be really good to get back playing again.”

“My priority since I have been here has been to adjust to time and conditions. I have had a couple of practices a day and think that has been really important.”

The three-time Grand Slam champion who once stood number one next plays Voracova after winning their only previous match in 2003.