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Sharapova Leads Russian Charge
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Second seed Maria Sharapova of Russia showed no signs of the shoulder injury that has dogged her for most of this year as she made a winning start to her French Open campaign yesterday.

She beat France's Emilie Loit 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) in 1 hour 50 minutes and will play veteran American Jill Craybas for a place in the third round.

There were straight set wins also for Sharapova's third seeded compatriot and last year's beaten finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova who cruised past another Russian Ekaterina Bychkova 6-0, 6-3 and for rising Serbian youngster and seventh seed Ana Ivanovic who blasted past Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson 6-2, 6-0.

Another Russian, ninth seed Anna Chakvetadze, joined them in the second round with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-3 win over Alicia Molik of Australia.

But there was dismay for the 2004 champion Anastasia Myskina, whose recent downward spiral continued with a 6-1, 6-0 hammering at the hands of veteran American Meghann Shaughnessy.

Amelie Mauresmo gave the Parisian crowd something to cheer following the defeat of men's No.1 Richard Gasquet when she eliminated Laura Granville of the United States 7-5, 6-0. She next plays compatriot Nathalie Dechy.

Playing in her first Grand Slam event since turning 20, Sharapova is badly short of match practice having only returned to action in Istanbul last week after two months out to treat the tendonitis pain in her shoulder.

And in Turkey she was gunned down 6-2, 6-4 by French youngster Aravane Rezai at the semifinal stage.

On top of that the French Open is the Grand Slam tournament that gives the big-hitting Russian the most problems and she has yet to get past the quarterfinals in four attempts.

But after breaking the veteran Loit in the third game she was given a much-needed confidence boost as the French player needed to take a medical time-out to get treatment for a thigh muscle injury.

On the resumption, Sharapova broke again to move 4-1 up and though dropping her own service two games later she still comfortably took the set 6-3.

Clad in three-quarter-length black leggings to combat the cold, damp conditions, Sharapova was finding that her big-hitting abilities were neutralised by the slow claycourt.

She dropped her serve in the fifth game after a series of woeful shots but that stung her into action as she broke back straight away in the next game to level at 3-3.

Loit served for the set at 6-5 but again that brought the best out of Sharapova as she hit back strongly to force a tie-break which she promptly won 7/4.

"My shoulder is sill not where I want it to be but I just love competing and I have a lot of respect for this tournament. I am willing to go out there and fight.

"It will be the toughest thing for me to go out there and win this tournament but I am willing to do it. This is also my preparation for Wimbledon."

Kuznetsova, who is making a habit of losing finals, four this year already, said she was determined to adopt a more positive frame of mind.

"I think I should have won many of those four finals and I didn't - it was a little bit from the mental side," she said.

"But I think I have changed and hopefully I can prove it."

The rain delays that wrecked the programme on Sunday and Monday meant that the bottom half of the women's draw was only just getting underway and with rain threatening once again, there was no certainty they would all clear the first round by the end of the day.

Both top seeds, Roger Federer and Justine Henin were due to be in action later in the day as was Australian Open champion Serena Williams.

In the men's championships it was the end of road for former world No.1 Marat Safin of Russia who lost in straight sets to Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia and 10th seed Thomas Berdych who fell to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain.

But sixth seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia cruised past Santiago Giraldo of Colombia in straight sets in a first round match held over from Tuesday as did dangerous outsider Guillermo Canas of Argentina in a second round match against Simon Bolelli of Italy.

(China Daily via AFP May 31, 2007)

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