<
>

Sharapova dispatches Davenport; Henin wins 30th straight

1/17/2008 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Fifth-ranked Maria Sharapova put an
end to new mom Lindsay Davenport's strong comeback, taking a 6-1,
6-3 victory Wednesday to reach the Australian Open third round.

The eagerly-awaited match pitted Davenport, who was 19-1 with
three titles since returning to the tour, against a former Grand
Slam winner for the first time since she took maternity leave to
give birth to son Jagger last June.

"From the day I found out, I started working for this game,"
Sharapova said of the draw. "I approached it like it's a final."

Locked in and sharp from the start, Sharapova yielded only six
points in the first five games, keeping Davenport constantly on the
run. Nothing much was going right for Davenport, who saw her serves
come back for winners and passing shots zip past when she ventured
to the net.

The crowd, which had started roughly divided in their support of
the two players, with a sprinkling of American flags scattered
around packed Rod Laver Arena, largely shifted to underdog
Davenport and cheered loudly when she finally held for her first
game to pull to 5-1.

"I wish I could've given them a little more to cheer for,"
Davenport said. "Obviously I wanted to play a little better than I
did in the beginning, but she was really aggressive on me.

"She was head and shoulders better than I was. I felt like I
never really hit the ball that well, and I'm in trouble when I'm
not hitting the ball well."

Sharapova held to finish off the set in 26 minutes with a crisp
backhand cross-court winner.

In the second set, Davenport started showing flashes of the
skills that carried her to three Grand Slam titles and the No. 1
ranking. She fended off triple-break point while serving at 3-3
before Sharapova cashed a fourth with a sharply angled backhand
service return winner.

Sharapova, who never gave up more than two points in her eight
service games, held, then broke Davenport for the fourth time when
the American netted a forehand on Sharapova's second match point.

"Obviously I'm disappointed with the way this match went and
this tournament went, but I have to look big picture at this point
in my career, and so far it's gone pretty well the last few
months," Davenport said. "I still feel like I'm the luckiest girl
in the world."

Sharapova, who lost last year's final to Serena Williams,
finished with 26 winners to just 12 unforced errors.

Williams and top-ranked Justine Henin scored straight-set
victories earlier that weren't as easy as the scores indicated to
move a step closer to a possible semifinal showdown.

Williams was the aggressor in a 6-3, 6-1 win over Meng Yuan,
hitting so hard on virtually every shot that she seemed to be
trying to reduce the ball to bits of fluff.

"My game was definitely a good game to play someone like her,"
said Williams, who prefers to match her power against anyone
else's. "I really enjoy the battle. I was able to practice my
groundstroke game a lot."

Pushing her record at Melbourne Park to 25-1 since 2003,
Williams ran off the last four games, breaking Yuan with a backhand
crosscourt passing shot on match point that the Chinese player let
drop, only to see it clip the line.

Henin looked to be on her way to an easy victory over Russia's
Olga Poutchkova, running through the first set in 22 minutes while
committing just five unforced errors.

But the hard-hitting Poutchkova began picking up her game, and
Henin appeared to be bothered by the gusty winds that made every
service toss an adventure, complicated on one side by a bright
midday sun.

Henin had five double-faults in her first two service games of
the second set, contributing to nine break points for Poutchkova.
Henin had 20 unforced errors to nine winners in the set, but was
clearly happy to have survived. The win was her 30th in a row.

"I played a very good first set, then I lost some intensity,"
said Henin, who skipped Melbourne last year because she was going
through a divorce and had to default in the 2006 final because of a
stomach illness.


Elsewhere, third seed Jelena Jankovic
used an injury timeout to refocus her energy and move on with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over
Romania's Edina Gallovits.

Jankovic, who took over three hours to dispatch Austria's
Tamira Paszek in the first round, romped through the first set
against Gallovits before suddenly looking out of sorts in the
second.

The 22-year-old Serb flexed her right shoulder continuously
throughout the early part of the set and took an injury timeout to receive courtside treatment before the sixth game. The
break allowed her to refocus her concentration and she levelled
at 3-3.

Despite being broken when serving for the match at 5-4,
Jankovic broke Gallovits again in the 11th game and served out
to love in the next to complete victory in 91 minutes.

Amelie Mauresmo, who won when Henin pulled out of the 2006
final, needed 10 match points to beat Yaroslava Shvedova of Russia,
and Nicole Vaidisova ended the run of Australia's Alicia Molik 6-2,
6-3.


Mauresmo led 5-1 in the second set
but she allowed Shvedova back into the match
before sealing the win.

"I probably got a little bit tight in that moment and
really wasn't able to finish that match off," Mauresmo said.

"I really think the lack of confidence showed a little bit,
lack of playing matches and being in that position more often
the last few months."

Mauresmo coughed up eight double faults, six in the second
set, and world No. 85 Shvedova took full advantage, forcing
a tiebreak before the Frenchwoman pulled herself together to
win it 7-5.

She will play Casey Dellacqua in the third round after the
Australian upset 15th seed Patty Schnyder.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.