- France - French Open - Rafael Nadal - tennis
REUTERS - Maria Sharapova flirted with danger and Andy Murray suffered a mid-match meltdown before their survival instincts kicked in to carry them into the third round of the French Open on Wednesday.
The duo have never felt at home in the heartland of claycourt tennis and after Murray was forced to change tactics to tame Italian Potito Starace 6-3 2-6 7-5 6-4, Sharapova maintained an aura of calm despite being five points from defeat to subdue 11th-seeded fellow Russian Nadia Petrova 6-2 1-6 8-6.
Rafael Nadal won a record 30th consecutive match at Roland Garros by trampling Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili 6-1 6-4 6-2.
The four-times champion eclipsed Chris Evert's mark of 29 set between 1974 and 1981 -- the American did not compete in Paris in 1976-78 -- to set up a blockbuster third round showdown with former world number one Lleyton Hewitt.
Women's top seed Dinara Safina followed up her 6-0 6-0 walloping of Britain's Anne Keothavong in the first round with a 6-1 6-1 demolition of luckless fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko and holder Ana Ivanovic discovered her sweet spot to crush Thai Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1 6-2.
Diatchenko carried a stuffed pink and blue toy on court as a mascot but the only luck it provided was to ensure she too did not suffer the humiliation of a whitewash at Safina's hands.
Despite the ruthless performance, Safina's coach Zeljko Krajan is proving to be a hard man to please.
"If one day he's going to be happy, I think I will finish my career. He is never happy. Even today, he is not happy," said the 23-year-old Safina, who won 17 consecutive games at these championships before finally allowing an opponent to take a game off her.
Like Safina, Murray is also chasing a maiden grand slam title but the third seed's hopes of equalling his best performance in Paris blew hot and cold on a chilly day on Philippe Chatrier Court.
"I managed to turn it around by playing a little bit more aggressive. I got the ball deep into his backhand and came to the net quite a lot," said Murray.
After losing the second set, Murray ran around aimlessly chasing shadows and looked in danger of going two-sets-to-one down to a player ranked 101 places below him as Starace streaked 5-1 ahead.
A combination of guile and deft shot-making allowed the Briton to save two set points as he dug himself out of a hole.
That performance held no fear for Murray's next opponent, bearded Serb Janko Tipsarevic.
"I beat him two times so being scared of him would be pretty stupid," summed up Tipsarevic.
The words "fear", "terror" or "panic" do not feature in Sharapova's dictionary and on Wednesday she again showed why.
On a comeback trail following a nine-month layoff because of a career-threatening shoulder injury, she hung tough for two hours 12 minutes before forcing Petrova to smack a forehand wide on match point.
"Obviously I am spending a little bit more time out there than I want to, but this was a great match where I had to fight my way through many, many challenges, and I did," Sharapova said after overcoming an opponent ranked 91 places above her.
Petrova, who actually won one more point than the 93 bagged by her rival, applauded her conqueror: "She really showed that she's a real champion by how she fought till the end."
For 20th seed Marat Safin and Fabrice Santoro, both bidding farewell to Roland Garros, there was no great escape.
Safin dived, lunged and kissed the net during a 4-1/2 hour thriller but that could not save him from falling to a 7-6 7-6 4-6 3-6 10-8 defeat by little-known Frenchman Josselin Ouanna.
Asked what his abiding memory would be from 11 trips to Paris, the 2002 semi-finalist said: "Hopefully I can forget this match, for sure. My best memory is too far away in history. Nothing really great to write about for last five years."
Sentimental French favourite Santoro, aka the Magician, took just eight minutes to perform his final vanishing act.
Santoro's 20th and final Roland Garros singles appearance ended in an emotional 6-3 6-1 3-6 6-4 first round defeat by Belgium's Christophe Rochus.
The match had been suspended on Tuesday due to bad light at 5-3 to Rochus in the fourth set but upon resumption, Santoro quickly ran out of tricks and bowed out after just two games.
"My game style was out of date when I arrived on tour. I got on the tour in the '90s, and my style dated back to the '70s. So managing to get good performances for 20 years when you're 20 years late ... that's the beauty of my career," said Santoro, who mystified opponents with his bewitching array of shots.
French seventh seed Gilles Simon gave home fans something to cheer about as he overwhelmed American Robert Kendrick 7-5 6-0 6-1 to reach the third round, while Spanish eighth seed Fernando Verdasco beat Germany's Philipp Petzschner 6-1 6-2 6-3.
"I went to Florida when I was nine with my family. But I feel Portuguese and that will always be the case," said the teenager.
"I feel super fit. I have felt a lot less pressure here than in other tournaments. I play, that's it."
In the midst of Sharapova's heroics, and de Brito's headline-grabbing performance, defending champion Ana Ivanovic slipped quietly into the next round with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn.
Next up for the Serbian eighth seed is Czech left-hander Iveta Benesova.
Former world number one Marat Safin, playing his last season before retirement, was knocked out by French wildcard Josselin Ouanna, the world 134, in a four and a half hour clash.
Ouanna won 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 3-6, 10-8.
"Christmas Day didn't come on December 25 for him, it came today," said Safin.
Hewitt made sure he'd face Nadal for the third time in four years with a straightforward 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan.
British third seed Andy Murray battled into the last 32, overcoming a stern test from Italian world 104 Potito Starace before prevailing 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
The 22-year-old Scotsman had to come back from 1-5 down in the third set, saving two set points, before eventually cruising to a comfortable victory as he matched his best career performance here.
Murray next faces Janko Tipsarevic who put out Spanish 28th seed Feliciano Lopez.
Women's top seed Dinara Safina enjoyed another French Open breeze, defeating teenage compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko 6-1, 6-1 to set up a last 32 clash with another Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Safina, who didn't lose a game in her first round mauling of Britain's Anne Keothavong, took just 55 minutes to dispose of 18-year-old qualifier Diatchenko, the world number 151.
The world number one next faces 17-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, the 27th seed, who reached the last 32 with a 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) win over France's Julie Coin.
Wednesday's win was Safina's 16th in 17 matches since she became world number one in April.