• Wimbledon, Day One

Sharapova & Azarenka overcome differing obstacles

ESPN staff
June 24, 2013
Victoria Azarenka overcame a scare in the second set against Maria Joao Koehler © Getty Images

Second and third seeds Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka both progressed to the second round of Wimbledon on Monday - although not without experiencing genuine difficulties, of two different causes.

Sharapova was pushed all the way in her Centre Court meeting with the emerging 20-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, while Victoria Azarenka had to overcome a painful-looking fall at the start of the second set of her meeting with Maria Joao Koehler to hang on and complete what had previously looked like being a straightforward triumph.

Azarenka is looking for her first Wimbledon title, and appeared well on course for a safe passage through the first round at the All England Club after she demolished Koehler 6-1 in the first set. But the Belarusian thought her tournament was over at the start of the second, after she rolled over her right leg - falling awkwardly to the floor just behind the baseline.

Screaming in agony, Azarenka was eventually led from the court for treatment - returning a short while later with her knee heavily strapped. Her movement was clearly impeded, but she nevertheless held on to persevere through the second set and clinch it 6-2, giving herself at least a day to assess the full extent of her injury.

"It was such a shock to me," Azarenka told the BBC afterwards. "I slipped and felt my body collapse. … I couldn't believe what was going on.

"I don't know what happened out there, but it was just trying to stay in the moment and give the best I can. It was very emotional."

Sharapova, in contrast, was forced further into her reserves of energy than she perhaps would have wanted to dispose of Mladenovic, edging a nervy first set-tiebreak on the way to an eventual 7-6(5) 6-3 win.

Mladenovic - in terms of style and stature, almost a mirror image of Sharapova - gave her more vaunted opponent all she could handle in the early stages, remaining strong on her own serve while ensuring the Russian was given nothing for free.

The match duly went to an opening tiebreak, which Sharapova led early before Mladenovic fought back. But Sharapova would not be denied, finding a crucial mini-break to eventually, by the smallest of margins, give herself the advantage.

Sharapova then held to start the second set, and created four break point opportunities in Mladenovic's first service game to pile on the pressure. But the Frenchwoman fended off all of them, eventually holding serve with some powerful shots as the contest's difficult balance remained in place.

That quickly changed, though, with Mladenovic's tough hold perhaps evidence she was beginning to struggle with the relentless pace. Sharapova broke at the next opportunity with relative ease, adding another hold to move 4-1 ahead.

From there it was a matter of limiting mistakes, and the world No. 2 duly did so to close out the contest.

"The first match is always difficult and my opponent played extremely well, so I'm happy to get through," Sharapova said. "I knew my opponent was capable of playing a good match, she has such a big game. But I'm happy with the way I stepped up in the second."

Earlier in the day came the first real surprise, as fifth seed Sara Errani was beaten in straight sets by the impressive Monica Puig. Later on former SW19 champion Petra Kvitova avoided a similar fate, rallying from a second set loss to to see off Coco Vandeweghe 6-1 5-7 6-4.

Elsewhere, there were first round victories for Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, Ana Ivanovic, Alize Cornet and Lucie Safarova.

Maria Sharapova was pushed hard by Kristina Mladenovic © PA Photos
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