Safina, Ivanovic, Sharapova advance

Updated: May 27, 2009, 9:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PARIS -- Trailing through most of the third set in her toughest test since shoulder surgery, Maria 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, her return to Grand Slam tennis.

"I kind of started stumbling away. Things went in the wrong direction," said Sharapova, who 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 'til the end," Petrova acknowledged.

Sharapova joined top-seeded Dinara Safina and defending champion Ana Ivanovic in the next round. Venus Williams lost the first set to Lucie Safarova 7-6 (5) before play was suspended because of darkness.

Sharapova 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 and 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. And I know I can do it again and even better," said Sharapova, once ranked No. 1 and now 102nd.

There were moments Wednesday when Sharapova looked as if she'd never been away, pushing Petrova this way and that -- particularly while winning the first set's last five games.

There were also moments when Sharapova appeared a step slow -- particularly while losing second set's last five games.

So Sharapova found herself playing her second straight three-setter, with rain falling and the temperature in the low 50s. Both women draped towels over their legs during changeovers, and Petrova donned a jacket.

But Sharapova saved six break points in the final set, serving well when absolutely necessary.

"She didn't give me any chance," said Petrova, twice a French Open semifinalist.

When Petrova sent a forehand wide to end the match, Sharapova covered her face with her fists. A moment later, she glanced at the players' guest seats, normally where her father sits. But he isn't at the French Open, because, as Sharapova put it: "After I won my third Grand Slam, he said, 'Look, I like hiking and skiing a lot,' and he kind of wanted to pursue that. So he's currently enjoying his life."

And his daughter is once again enjoying hers. She smiled as she looked up at her coach, Michael Joyce, who traveled back and forth weekly between Los Angeles and Phoenix with Sharapova when she was rehabilitating her shoulder. As Sharapova beamed, Joyce stood and pounded his right fist over his heart.

Safina easily beat 18-year-old Russian qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko 6-1, 6-1, and Ivanovic defeated Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand 6-1, 6-2.

Safina took a 5-0 lead to open the match, stretching her streak to 17 straight games after winning 6-0, 6-0 in the first round.

"Pretty good start for the tournament," said Safina, who lost in the Australian Open final and was the runner-up at Roland Garros last year. "I just played a good game today, good enough to win."

The 153rd-ranked Diatchenko didn't have many break opportunities against Safina.

"I felt so bad because I didn't play my best game today," Diatchenko said. "She's in good form. Every ball she put close to the line."

Ivanovic looked more comfortable on court after struggling in her opening match. The eighth-seeded Serb broke the 32-year-old Tanasugarn twice in the first set and three times in the second.

"I just want to sort of get my way through the rounds and just feel more comfortable match after match," Ivanovic said. "Today I think I served some aces, which gave me some confidence in my serve, and that's something I've been working on."

The 21-year-old Serb finished with three aces.

No. 9 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, No. 22 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, No. 25 Li Na of China, No. 27 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, No. 29 Agnes Szavay of Hungary and No. 32 Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic also made it through, while No. 21 Alize Cornet of France reached the second round.

No. 15 Zheng Jie of China lost.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.