NEW YORK: French Open champion Maria Sharapova produced a gritty, three-set victory over Alexandra Dulgheru on Wednesday to reach the third round of the US Open.
The fifth-seeded Russian, one of the day’s headliners along with Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka and five-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, kept the star-quotient up on a day that saw two-time defending women’s champion Serena Williams along with top men Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all having a day off.
Venus Williams was to open the night session, taking on Timea Bacsinszky for a place in the third round.
Wawrinka, the third seed from Switzerland, faced Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci in one of two men’s second-round matches on the slate.
Sharapova, whose Roland Garros triumph was her fifth Grand Slam success, got off to a rocky start against Romania’s 95th-ranked Dulgheru, a former top 30 player who is trying to rebuild her career after missing a year of play after right knee surgery.
Sharapova was reluctant to blame the windy conditions in the cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium court, but the blustery weather could have been a contributing factor to her 46 unforced errors.
However, after two hours and 26 minutes on court — in a match that began in hot sunshine and ended with the floodlights coming on — she had her 17th three-set win of the season, the most on the WTA tour.
“There was a little bit of everything today,” Sharapova, the 2006 US Open winner, said. “As tricky as it is, you have to find a way to win.”
That’s something Agnieska Radwanska, once again at Flushing Meadows, couldn’t do.
China’s Peng Shuai toppled the fourth seed 6-3, 6-4, avenging a loss to the Pole at the 2011 Australian Open where the Chinese player had held two match points.
Poland’s Radwanska, a former Wimbledon finalist who counts this year’s Australian Open among two other Grand Slam semi-final spots, was left to ponder why she has never made it past the last 16 in nine US Open appearances.
“I really want to know the answer, then maybe I will find a way to play better here and just try another way to be in the second week,” said Radwanska who had also lost to Peng in New York in 2010.
World number two Simona Halep, seeded second behind two-time defending champion Serena Williams, needed less than an hour to book her third-round berth, with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Slovakian Jana Cepelova.
Halep was broken early to trail 0-2, but won 12 of the next 13 games to secure the win.
Sweden’s Johanna Larsson and Swiss teen Belinda Bencic sprung minor upsets.
Larsson rallied to beat 21st-seeded American Sloane Stephens 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 while 17-year-old Bencic, ranked 58th in the world, joined the youth movement spearheaded by 15-year-old CiCi Bellis by ousting Japanese 31 seed Kurumi Nara 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
Sixth-seeded German Angelique Kerber advanced on cue, downing Russian Alla Kudryavtseva 6-2, 6-4 in a match that saw seven breaks of serve, and French 22nd seed Alize Cornet defeated Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-3.
Sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych brought Lleyton Hewitt’s 62nd Grand Slam appearance to a quick end, downing the former world number one, and 2001 champion, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the second round.
The 33-year-old Hewitt, who has had five surgeries in five years to keep his career going, had early breaks in both the second and third sets, but couldn’t deny Berdych a 100th career Grand Slam match win.
Seventh-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov finally ended his US Open jinx. After coming up empty in three straight appearances, he defeated US wildcard Ryan Harrison 6-2, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
South African Kevin Anderson rallied from a break down in the final set to defeat Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/1) in just over four hours.
But three men’s matches were cut short by injury retirements.
Wimbledon quarter-finalist Marin Cilic of Croatia advanced when a right ankle injury forced Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis to retire while trailing 6-3, 3-1.
Spanish 19th seed Feliciano Lopez advanced when Croatian Ivan Dodig retired because of cramping with their match knotted a 1-1 in the fifth set.
American Steve Johnson also retired with cramping, dramatically unable to continue to hand Japan’s Tatsuma Ito a win.
Dodig also retired at both the Australian and French Opens, and was a no-show at Wimbledon due to injury.