STUTTGART - Defending champion Maria Sharapova admits she had a tough opening in her bid to win a third straight Stuttgart WTA tournament title after her three-sets win over Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.
Sharapova, who has never lost on her two appearances in Stuttgart winning the 2012 and 2013 titles, will face Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Thursday's second round match after beating Safarova 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/2) late on Tuesday.
Sharapova had to dig deep having been just two points away from defeat when Safarova levelled at 30-all with the scores at 6-5 in the decisive third set.
The statuesque Russian, the sixth seed in Stuttgart, needed three hours, 24 minutes for the 100th clay-court victory of her career.
"I hadn't expected that it would be an easy match," said Sharapova, three days after her 27th birthday.
"There were ups and downs, but the level was good from both of us.
"The momentum changed hands a couple of times.
"I'm happy that I'm the winner, because at one stage in the third set I was only two points away from defeat."
Pavlyuchenkova defeated Latvian qualifier Diana Marcinkevica 6-3, 6-2 to set up her clash with Sharapova for a quarter-final place.
Former world number one Jelena Jankovic, the fifth seed, saved four match points to reach Thursday's last 16 when she came back to claim a 2-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3 win over German lucky loser Mona Barthel.
Jankovic will now face either German wild-card Andrea Petkovic or Italy's Flavia Pennetta for a place in the quarter-finals.
There were mixed fortunes for Germany's Fed Cup heroines Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges, freshly returned from their Fed Cup semi-final in Australia.
Lisicki suffered a first-round exit in Stuttgart to former world number one Ana Ivanovic who enjoyed a 6-1, 6-3 win against last season's Wimbledon finalist.
"This is not an east time for me," said Lisicki, who has suffered with a shoulder injury.
"Of course I am disappointed, the confidence is just not there, everyone can see that."
There were no such problems for Goerges, the 2011 Stuttgart champion, who enjoyed a 6-1, 7-5 first-round win over Romania's Sorana Cirstea.
"This is a very special place for me, I still have incredible memories," said the 25-year-old, who faces Ivanovic in the second round on Thursday.
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