- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

From combined dispatches

WIMBLEDON, England | There was a time, not all that long ago, when Maria Sharapova wondered when she would be back at Grand Slam tournaments, let alone winning matches.

Surgery in October on her right shoulder — a fairly important part of a tennis player’s body — forced Sharapova off the tour for the better part of a year. She returned to singles action last month, and she struggled quite a bit Monday before reaching the second round at Wimbledon.

Sharapova lost four consecutive games at one point, was broken five times and generally seemed on the verge of losing control. The 2004 Wimbledon champion did manage to steady herself just enough to get past qualifier Viktoriya Kutuzova of Ukraine 7-5, 6-4.

“If someone told me four months ago that I’d be here playing Wimbledon, you know, I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised, but I would be really happy about the fact,” Sharapova said. “And I am happy to be here.”

While some women have already played 35 or even 45 singles matches in 2009, Sharapova is 11-3, having only started her season at a clay-court event in Poland in May. She then reached the quarterfinals at the French Open and the semifinals at a grass-court event in preparation for coming to the All England Club.

Over the weekend, Sharapova played down her chances of a second Wimbledon championship — and fourth Grand Slam title overall — because of general rustiness. There were traces of that Monday against Kutuzova, who is ranked 79th and never advanced beyond the second round at a major tournament.

Sharapova trailed 4-1, then 5-3 in the first set. She double-faulted five times in that set alone. When she served for the match at 5-3 in the second, she was broken at love. She faced 10 break points in all.

Blake exits early

James Blake is finding it tough to pinpoint why he keeps losing matches he thinks he should win.

Once ranked in the top 10, once a fairly regular participant in the second week of major championships, Blake is now on a three-match losing streak at Grand Slam tournaments. The American’s latest setback came Monday at Wimbledon, where the 17th-seeded Blake was beaten 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (5) by 50th-ranked Andreas Seppi of Italy.

“I still feel like I can play with anyone in the world, but it’s just, for some reason lately, it’s been very inconsistent,” Blake said. “I’ve been doing all the training. I’ve been doing all the conditioning. I’m fit as I’ve been. I just haven’t been as confident, I guess. Maybe that’s just from not winning a lot of matches.”

He also bowed out in the first round at the French Open last month, following a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open in January.

There were chances to get back into the match against Seppi. He held one set point in the third, leading 6-5, but missed a forehand long to end a 23-stroke exchange. Blake then took a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker before Seppi won the match’s last seven points.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,” said Seppi, who never has made it past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament. “I didn’t think I would win that tiebreaker.”

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