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Sharapova eases into third round

MARIA Sharapova eased past Darya Kustova of Belarus 6-2, 6-0 yesterday to reach the third round of the Warsaw Open, her first singles tournament since coming back from shoulder surgery.

The three-time grand slam winner needed only 57 minutes to eliminate Kustova.

"I played a solid game and did everything that I had to do in order to win today," Sharapova said.

The Russian had surgery for a torn rotator cuff last year and missed the past two grand slam tournaments. She said the shoulder hasn't bothered her in Warsaw, and the only sign of the injury yesterday were two strips of white tape on her right shoulder.

"I'm really enjoying myself, and after putting in so much work and being out for so long, it just gives you so much satisfaction to know that the work that you put in at some point is going to bring you victories," she said. "But right now it's just a thrill to be out there and competing."

Sharapova, who is playing in her first WTA tour singles tournament in nearly 10 months, is trying to regain the form that led her to the No. 1 ranking in 2005. Her ranking slid to No. 126 while sidelined with the injury, but despite showing a few signs of rust, the Russian didn't face much of a challenge from the 209th-ranked Kustova.

Sharapova broke the Belarusian in the second game of the first set, and her only slip of the match came when she double faulted when leading 4-0 to hand Kustova a break. But she quickly recovered and claimed the first set with a forehand winner that clipped the baseline.

Looking ahead to her quarterfinal matchup with eighth-seeded Alona Bondarenko, a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Marta Domachowska of Poland earlier, Sharapova said she expects a challenge from the Ukrainian. "She's in good form, she plays a really good defensive game but she can also step in and hit the ball," the Russian said.

There was a surprise in another match as Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic upended third seed Zheng Jie of China 6-0, 6-4.

In other action, Anne Keothavong of Britain downed Jill Craybas of the United States 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, and qualifier Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania upset fifth-seeded Sara Errani of Italy 6-4, 6-3.

In Kitzbuehel, Jurgen Melzer of Austria reached his first quarterfinal of the season with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Agustin Calleri of Argentina in the second round of the Austrian Open yesterday.

The second-seeded Melzer, ranked at a career-high No. 26, had five aces and converted his fourth match point against Calleri, who won the event in 2006.

Melzer will next take on seventh-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny, a 6-2, 6-4 winner over another Austrian, Stefan Koubek.


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