Sharapova wins second set in 20 minutes

Updated: February 2, 2005, 8:19 PM ET news services

TOKYO -- Maria Sharapova recovered from a slow start to beat Venezuela's Maria Vento-Kabchi 7-6, 6-0 at the Pan Pacific Open on Wednesday.

Last year's U.S. Open winner, Svetlana Kuznetsova, trounced Swiss qualifier Marie-Gayanay Mikaelian 6-3, 6-1 to join her fellow Russian in the last eight of the $1.3 million event.

Sharapova struggled initially in her first match since losing to Serena Williams in last week's Australian Open semifinals.

Sharapova, last year's Wimbledon champion, received a bye into the second round in Tokyo and struggled in the first set. The No. 2 seed dropped serve twice and was clearly frustrated with herself before finally seizing control and racing through the tiebreak 7-3, converting her fourth set point with a crunching forehand down the line.

A more focused Sharapova powered through the second set in just 20 minutes, the 17-year-old closing out the match with her ninth ace to reach the quarterfinals.

Sharapova squandered match point in a crushing 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 loss to Williams in Melbourne. Williams went on to beat Lindsay Davenport in the Australian Open final this past weekend.

"It took a while to find my groove and rhythm," Sharapova said. "I didn't have the best preparation coming from the Australian Open -- just a few days.

"I wasn't nervous. I needed a little more time on this surface. It suits my game because the ball moves fast and low, and I picked up my level in the second set."

Kuznetsova was wrongly accused of doping violations last month and was forced to play down talk of a rift with Sharapova during the Australian Open.

However, the No. 3 seed looked comfortable from the start on Tokyo's indoor carpet as she pummelled Mikaelian into submission in just 49 minutes.

"It was tough playing my first match after the Australian Open," said Kuznetsova, who was beaten by Sharapova in the Melbourne quarterfinals.

"It's the start of the year and I'm not playing too well yet, but I'm not complaining. I think I have a chance to win another Grand Slam [tournament] this year.

"I know it will be more difficult because players know more about my game and they will have the key to beating me."

The top four seeds received a first-round bye. Top-ranked Davenport will play Thursday, as will Elena Dementieva, who also felt repercussions from the doping saga. On Tuesday, the 23-year-old Russian pulled out of a tournament in Belgium, site of the hullabaloo.

Davenport will play her first singles match against Japan's Saori Obata, and Dementieva will open against Akiko Morigami, who downed Maria Sanchez Lorenzo of Spain 6-4, 6-1. In other first-round matches Wednesday, American Jill Craybas beat Russian Tatiana Panova 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 and Akiko Nakamura beat Ryoko Fuda 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.