Maria Sharapova was under a dry spell, both her power shots and her return volleys were missing the mark. Her serves were out of synch and she sensed the danger of bowing out early to 95th-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru. She relied on her experience and conditioning to eke out the victory by a hair.
The five-time major tournament champion was down 4-6, when she captured the next two, 6-3 and 6-2 to advance in the third round of the US Open. She was able to evade another upset for the women's division which saw fourth seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and 21st-seed Sloane Stephens eliminated earlier in the day.
"As tricky as it is, you have to expect not to play your best tennis and find a way to win," Sharapova said after the game via Yahoo Sports.
She did find a way to eke out the victory, overcoming nine double-faults and 46 unforced errors that upped her record of 17-6 for the year. She won one major this year, the French Open in June but has not displayed the form since the said win but she can heave a sigh of relief as she was able to dodge the lowest end to a US Open run since 2003. The Russian star endured the alternating humid and windy day to put a high note on the day that saw many fall down.
Stephens, the 21-year-old American succumbed to an upset to 96th-ranked Johanna Larsson and admitted it was a disappointment. She relates that she is not the first high-ranked player to bow out early and it happens but she would not be the last. This puts a halt to her steady climb atop the rankings after reaching at least the fourth round of each of the last six major tournaments dating back to 2013 when she upset Serena Williams to reach the Australian Open semifinals.
It was more heartbreaking for fourth-ranked Radwanska who struggled heavily against Peng Shuai losing in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. Shuai gave hope to her motherland as the other contender from China, third-ranked Li Na is already out of the tourney due to a knee injury. The US Open has been the Achilles heel of Radwanska, not having reached the quarterfinals of the tourney.
"I really want to know the answer," Radwanska said. "Then maybe I will find a way to play better here and just try another way to be in the second week."
The win is an encouraging sign for Peng who just reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. On Wednesday, the Chinese won a 27-point rally behind a backhand winner to set her up for a third match point. She clinched the win with another backhand that went into the right corner.