- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

PARIS | On a day of adieus at the French Open, Maria Sharapova managed to stick around.

Trailing through most of the third set in her toughest test since shoulder surgery, Sharapova pulled out a 6-2, 1-6, 8-6 victory over 11th-seeded Nadia Petrova on Wednesday to reach the third round at Roland Garros.

“I kind of started stumbling away. Things went in the wrong direction,” said Sharapova, who is returning to Grand Slam tennis after missed the U.S. Open and Australian Open. “I was just glad I could pick myself up and keep fighting.”

That she did: Five times, Petrova was one point away from serving for the match. But Sharapova didn’t allow her to convert those chances.

“She really showed, even though she has been out for a while, she’s willing to compete till the end,” Petrova said.

Sharapova’s French Open continues, as does Rafael Nadal’s winning streak at Roland Garros - which he extended to a tournament-record 30 matches - but there will be no more trips to the clay-court major for Marat Safin or Fabrice Santoro. Both are retiring at season’s end, and both bowed out Wednesday, albeit in quite contrasting ways, which is fitting, given their polar-opposite personalities and styles of play.

The big-hitting, loud-talking Safin succumbed after a 4 1/2-hour, five-set bit of theater; the spin-mixing, gentlemanly Santoro played all of eight minutes to conclude his loss to Christophe Rochus in a match suspended the night before by darkness.

“My game style was out of date when I arrived on the tour. I got on the tour in the ‘90s, and my style dated back to the ‘70s,” said Santoro, who tied a record by playing in his 20th French Open. “So when I arrived, I was, you know, 20 years late already.”

Safin, meanwhile, entertained as only he can, diving for shots, kicking at the clay in disgust, and gesturing at fans to make even more noise when they got on his case for arguing calls. The two-time major title winner eventually was beaten by 134th-ranked Josselin Ouanna of France 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 3-6, 10-8.

“I played terrible,” the 20th-seeded Safin said.

He was done as dusk fell, around the time Venus Williams lost the first set of her match against Lucie Safarova. They were told to pack up because there wasn’t enough light.

Winners included No. 3 Andy Murray, No. 7 Gilles Simon - who eliminated Robert Kendrick, making Andy Roddick the only U.S. man left - No. 8 Fernando Verdasco and Lleyton Hewitt, who faces Nadal next.

Safin’s younger sister, No. 1-ranked Dinara Safina, won in straight sets, as did defending champion Ana Ivanovic and 16-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito, who upset No. 15 Zheng Jie.

Sharapova had a much longer day’s work. But that’s OK with her.

The Russian was so disappointed to miss the U.S. Open and Olympics last year she couldn’t bear to watch on TV. By the time the Australian Open came around in January, Sharapova found herself tuning in, then being inspired to head to the gym late at night.

“I know what I’m capable of out there. I know what I’ve done before,” said Sharapova, once ranked No. 1 and now 102nd. “And I know I can do it again and even better.”

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