Monday, January 15, 2007

Nearly Pin-possible

Camille Pin, the 25-year-old Frenchwoman, nearly took out first-seeded Maria Sharapova in the second day of the Australian Open. The Russian teen took the 2 hour, 53 minute match 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in stifling Melbourne heat.

Sharapova breezed through the opening set 6-3 before the diminutive Pin's retrieving game got to the US Open champ in the second, taking the set 6-4.

In the third, Sharapova jumped out to an immediate 5-0 lead and a desperate failed line call challenge by Pin seemed to be the nail in the coffin. Yet the veteran dug deep and held serve for 1-5, then reeled off the next four games, stopping match points from Sharapova twice and evening the match at 5 all.

The two would trade holds for 6-6 and when Sharapova lost her opening service point in that game, she tapped a ball over the net to Pin's side, in obvious confidence that she was in a third-set tiebreak. But at the AO, the third sets are played out, and the chair judge quickly reminded Sharapova, who promptly dropped her service game and fell behind 6-7, 15-30.

It was do-or-die for the two-slam winner at that point, and Sharapova came up with a splendid down-the-line forehand and a whizzing cross-court winner back-to-back to take a 30-40 lead. From that point on, it was all Sharapova. Pin double faulted to give the break back and Sharapova won the next two games and the match, 9-7.

It surely wasn't the start Sharapova and others had anticipated. Pin was a dismal 2-14 in grand slam matches coming into the day, and hadn't been to the second round of a major since last year's Aussie.

But the little speedster from Nice gave Sharapova all the trouble she could handle for the second two sets. Sharapova often looked exhausted, slumping her shoulders and taking refuge in the shade near the back of the court in 90-degree weather.

In the end it was the younger, more powerful Sharapova who was able to come out with the win. Hitting the big shots when she needed to and forcing her opponent to scramble meters behind the baseline. Unlike her meltdown at last year's French to Dinara Safina, in which Sharapova led 5-1 and lost 5-7 in the third, the Russian was able to dig deep and chalk up her first win of 2007.

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