Sharapova falls in Cincinnati opener to Stephens in three sets
MASON, Ohio -- Maria Sharapova's return to WTA tournament play after more than a month away was short-lived following an upset loss to 17th-ranked American Sloane Stephens 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the second round of the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.
In a match that lasted 2 hours, 22 minutes, Stephens overcame losing the first set and the first two games of the second and double faults on two match points to pick up her first victory over Sharapova in four meetings.
"It definitely started out rough," Stephens said. "A set and 0-2, she was killing it. I'm glad I was able to turn it around and start playing good tennis."
Sharapova, the 2011 W&S champion and a 2010 finalist, showed no traces of the hip injury that had kept her sidelined since a second-round loss at Wimbledon.
"I thought I started the match off pretty well, but when you put yourself in a really good position, you can't let it go," Sharapova said. "That's what I did tonight. I didn't continue what I was doing well for the first set and a half, and that hurt me.
"You know, I stopped being patient. I started making a lot more errors, especially off the first ball -- just errors that I shouldn't make. Obviously I haven't played in a long time, but I can't make that excuse for myself because I've got to be ready from the first match. So it's obviously disappointing, but that's the way it goes in this game."
Jimmy Connors, who won the tournament 41 years ago, watched from the stands in his first match as Sharapova's coach. She hired Connors, the 1972 champion and a 1986 finalist, in mid-July.
Fourteenth-seeded Jelena Jankovic, the 2009 champion and 2011 runner-up, advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-2 win over Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisiski.
In earlier action, second-ranked Victoria Azarenka held off an upset bid by qualifier Vania King to pull out a 6-1, 7-6 (6) win and advance to the third round. Azarenka rallied from a 3-0 hole in the second set to force the tiebreaker against the 140th-ranked American.
Azarenka, who has been bothered by a lower back injury, won her first match since losing to Samantha Stosur in the finals of the Southern California Open two weeks ago.
"I think the beginning of the second set wasn't very good for me," Azarenka said. "There were quite a few unforced errors and just really fast mistakes, which didn't happen in the first set."
John Isner defeated Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4, and Grigor Dimitrov defeated Brian Baker 6-3, 6-2. Third-seeded David Ferrer edged 102nd-ranked American Ryan Harrison 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4.
Varvara Lepchenko of the United States advanced with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over Flavia Pennetta, and Jamie Hampton needed three sets to overcome Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Alize Cornet rallied past Ana Ivanovic 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Sorana Cirstea, the 21st-ranked Romanian who lost to No. 1 Serena Williams in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday, withdrew from her first-round match against Yanina Wickmayer.
Cirstea was replaced by No. 43 Monica Niculescu, who lost in this past weekend's qualifying but stayed around in case a spot opened up in the singles main draw and to play doubles. The Romanian capitalized on her second chance with a 6-1, 6-2 win over the 58th-ranked Wickmayer.
No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki easily advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Shuai Peng.
Gilles Simon was forced to retire because of a strained hip against Vasek Pospisil, who was leading 6-3, 1-1.