Sharapova relieved after winning thrilling encounter against fellow Russian Alexandra Panova
Melbourne: Maria Sharapova hailed her mental strength after saving two match points on the way to a dramatic victory over unheralded fellow Russian Alexandra Panova at the Australian Open.
Maria Sharapova serves during her match against Alexandra Panova in Melbourne yesterday. Pic/AFP
Qualifier Panova, ranked 150th in the world, looked to be on her way to a stunning upset at the expense of the number two seed when she served for the second-round match at 5-4 in the deciding set.
However, 2008 champion Sharapova, who also trailed 4-1 in the decider, produced two thumping forehands to save the match points and went on to win 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.
"I'm just happy to get through," Sharapova said. "I wasn't playing my best tennis today. I think she played a pretty inspired match and she's played a few matches in qualifying. She came out with not much to lose, swinging freely and going for her shots.
"I didn't want to be out here for two and a half hours, but that's sometimes how it goes." Sharapova, who will face Zarina Dyas in the third round after the 31st seed defeated Anna Schmiedlova 8-6 in the third set, added: "I thought my thought process through the match to that point (saving the match points) was pretty negative. "I think I was dwelling too much on my mistakes, what I was doing wrong, not really being in the present — something that I'm really usually good at.
"At that point when you're behind and you feel like you're making a lot of errors, you don't feel like you have a good rhythm out there. I just really tried to take it a point at a time, think positively, and change my thought process a little bit.
'Mental side helped out'
"When other things aren't working, maybe the mental side of things will help you out. I think in the end maybe that's what did." Panova was gracious in defeat, adding: "She came up with good shots, with the winners.
What could I do? I should have played even better or something to keep the momentum. She's a great fighter. She's a great champion. To take it from her, you really need something extra."