New York – Former champion Maria Sharapova won the last 10 games to defeat former doubles partner and childhood friend Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 6-0 to reach the US Open second round Monday.
Fifth seed Sharapova, the 2006 champion in New York, rallied from 2-4 down in the first set to take victory and set up a clash with Romania's Alexandra Dulgheru for a spot in the last 64.
The Russian superstar, the winner of five majors, missed last year's New York tournament with a season-ending shoulder injury.
But despite an early wobble against her former top 10
compatriot, the outcome was never in doubt once Kirilenko had required treatment on her troublesome left ankle.
“It's always hard to start a tournament, especially against a player like her who is a tough opponent,” said Sharapova of Kirilenko who has now slipped out of the top 100.
But facing a player she has known since they were 12 years old is never an easy occasion even if Monday's clash was the eighth of their professional careers.
“We spent a lot of time in the juniors away from the courts practicing a lot together, competing against each other. We certainly have a big history (the two played doubles at the US Open in 2004).
“But when you go out on the court, it's always that fine line between, of course you want to be the winner, you have to face that person as a competitor, not someone that you've known for years and developed a friendship with. It's always a tricky balance, I guess.”
Sharapova, the French Open champion, admitted that being forced to skip last year's New York Grand Slam had been hard to tolerate.
“It was tough missing this court last year,” she said. “I didn't follow the tennis too much Ä it was a little too sad.”
Sharapova later suggested that the rule over medical timeouts Ä which many believe is just a tool to break the winning momentum of an opponent Ä should be tightened up, only half-jokingly hinting at charging for using the system.
“I'd probably start charging for medical timeouts. I think we'd all see who really uses them and who doesn't. Yeah, I don't know what we put on it, maybe like 2,500 (dollars) or something. Yeah, I think we should do that. That would be fun.”
One spectator who was having fun during the first, typically boisterous night session of the fortnight was US actor Alec Baldwin who confidently pouched a shank off the Kirilenko racquet before tossing the ball back.
But Sharapova, as single-minded as ever, hardly noticed.
“I had no idea,” she admitted. – Sapa-AFP