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WORLD SPORT

Sharapova saves three match points

PARIS, France -- Fourth seed Maria Sharapova saved three match points as she fought back from 5-2 down in the final set to beat American Mashona Washington 6-2 5-7 7-5 in the first round of the French Open.

The former Wimbledon champion, playing her first match in almost two months after being sidelined with a foot injury, looked down and out in the decider but roared back to clinch a second-round clash with Czech Iveta Benesova.

Sharapova, twice a quarterfinalist here, looked on course for a comfortable win when she romped through the first set.

But Washington, the world number 97, lifted her game in the second set and kept Sharapova off balance with a series of drop shots.

The American hammered 18 winners in the second set alone to level the match.

After Sharapova had her right foot re-strapped at the start of the third set, Washington stormed to a 5-2 lead and earned a match point on the Russian's serve.

But Sharapova saved it and held for 5-3 before saving two more on Washington's serve in the next game.

With the American tightening up, the fourth seed took her chance to break back and after holding for 5-5, she moved ahead when Washington double-faulted to drop serve. Sharapova then served out for victory, raising her hands in celebration as a backhand from Washington sailed wide after two hours, 26 minutes.

Meanwhile, world number one Amelie Mauresmo received a confidence boost on Sunday in her quest to win the French Open when she overcame American Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4 6-4 to reach the second round.

The center court favorite, whose last match had ended in a 6-1 6-2 thrashing by Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Berlin semifinals, outclassed the world number 59 in one hour and 40 minutes.

In 1996, the Frenchwoman had beaten Shaughnessy to capture the junior French Open title and hoped that will prove to be a good omen.

"This morning, I warmed up on court two, where I beat her in the junior final," Mauresmo told a press conference.

"I also remember I beat her in the decisive match of the Fed Cup final in 2003 so it might be a good sign for the rest of the tournament."

Mauresmo will meet the winner of an all-Russian contest between Anastassia Rodionova and Vera Dushevina for a third-round spot.

"It's satisfying for a first round even if it was not the match of the century," said Mauresmo, who has never progressed beyond the last eight at Roland Garros.

"The only slight regret I have is that sometimes I could have taken a bit more control of the game. This might have made a bigger difference on the scoreboard."

The top seed, who made her grand slam breakthrough in January by winning the Australian Open, admitted on Friday she was a bit short of match practice after being forced to withdraw from the Rome tournament with a sore throat.

However, she did not appear to suffer from any ill-effects as she capitalised on a first-game break to wrap up the opening set in 48 minutes.

Shaughnessy, who had lost all three of their meetings, saved a break point in the fifth game of the second set with a fine passing shot but ended up dropping her serve after miscuing a forehand wide.

The Geneva-based Mauresmo showed no sign of nerves when she too had to save four break points in the eighth game.

Although Shaughnessy broke her on her fifth attempt to level the set at 4-4, Mauresmo recaptured her advantage in the following game.

She finished her work on her second match point with an ace.

"It was a very close match. Unfortunately she was more aggressive in the key moments," said Shaughnessy.

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