Maria Sharapova Battles to Epic Win Over Anastasija Sevastova at China Open 2017

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2017

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Maria Sharapova of Russia returns a shot during the  Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia on day one of the 2017 China Open at the China National Tennis Centre on September 30, 2017 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by XIN LI/Getty Images)
XIN LI/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova beat Anastasija Sevastova 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-6 (7) on Saturday in an epic encounter in Round 1 of the China Open.

In her first match since losing to Sevastova at the U.S. Open earlier in the year, the Russian took the first set before being forced into a decider.

Sharapova then led 5-2 in the third with two breaks in hand, though two match points slipped by and Sevastova launched a remarkable comeback and forced the match to an all-or-nothing tiebreak.

In it, both players saved match points, with the contest on a knife edge. But the five-time Grand Slam champion eventually found a way.

Earlier in the day, second seed Simona Halep survived a scare in her match with Alison Riske, eventually emerging as the victor in three tight sets. Former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber was much more comfortable in cruising past Naomi Osaka.

                  

Selected Results

(2) Simona Halep beat Alison Riske, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2

(10) Angelique Kerber beat Naomi Osaka, 6-2, 7-5

(12) Petra Kvitova beat Kristyna Pliskova, 6-3, 7-5

Maria Sharapova beat (16) Anastasija Sevastova, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-6 (7)

For the full results, visit Tennis.com.

              

Saturday Recap

From the off it was clear Sharapova's clash with Sevastova was going to be a huge battle, with a couple of close early games signs of things to come.

The five-time Grand Slam champion wasn't at her best early on and was forced to dig deep to hold her second service game having lost her opener, as noted by Live Tennis:

From there, the two traded blows, with the Latvian able to respond whenever Sharapova broke to take the first stanza to a tiebreak. Sharapova was able to muscle through it and claim the first set.

The Russian broke at the first opportunity in the second, and for the first time in the match consolidated with a hold. But just when she appeared to be coasting to a win, Sevastova broke back and went on to take the set late on, per the WTA Twitter account:

Sharapova was on the offensive at the start of the decider, and once again she was in control after an early break; another saw her move into what looked an unassailable 5-2 lead. But remarkably, Sevastova fought back, winning three games in a row and saving two match points to level things up at 5-5.

A hold for the Latvian then saw her push 6-5 ahead and heap the pressure onto her opponent. Sharapova clung on to take the match into a deciding tiebreak, though.

In the breaker, both players saved match points as the drama continued. But eventually it was Sharapova who emerged victorious after a gruelling three hours and eight minutes.

Earlier in the day, Halep was looking to lay down her own marker against Riske. 

After taking the first set, the Romanian would have been expecting the American to wilt a little in the second. Yet Riske rose to the challenge and bounced back; with momentum behind her, the underdog would have fancied her chances in the decider.

Halep didn't have it all her own way in Beijing.
Halep didn't have it all her own way in Beijing.Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images

But the quality of Halep did show in the final stages, as she found composure on key points and showing an extra level of fitness.

As the WTA Twitter account showed, there was a sense of relief from the second seed when she finally wrapped this one up:

Kerber progressed in her match too as she seeks to finish off a disappointing 2017 in style. 

The German was top of the WTA rankings at the start of the year having won two of the four Grand Slam titles in 2016. This season she failed to get beyond the fourth round in any of them and was eliminated twice in the first round.

Kerber has underwhelmed in 2017.
Kerber has underwhelmed in 2017.Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images

One of those exits was at the U.S. Open against Osaka, so Kerber would have been delighted to have earned some degree of revenge with a win here; the 10th seed also beat the Japanese at Tokyo II earlier this month.

Kvitova is also into Round 2 too after a routine win over Pliskova. While things did get a little scrappy in the second set, the Czech moved through the gears late on to clinch it.

In the final match of the day, 13th seed Kristina Mladenovic suffered an upset loss against home hope Duan Yingying. Duan needed just two sets to book her spot in the next round, winning 7-5, 6-4.