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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sharapova gives Pan Pacific Open a facelift


Sharapova reaches last eight
* Jankovic unfazed by seed jinx
* Azarenka also powers through (Adds Azarenka win, details in paras 5-6)
By Alastair Himmer
TOKYO, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Former world number one Maria Sharapova continued her salvage operation at the Pan Pacific Open by screeching into the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Wearing a pink dress, the Russian beat compatriot Alisa Kleybanova 2-6 6-2 6-2—to the relief of Tokyo organisers after a flood of early upsets at the $2 million event.
“It took a while to get my reaction and instincts back today,” Sharapova, ranked 25th in the world following shoulder surgery last October, told reporters.
Seventh seed Jelena Jankovic, the highest-ranked survivor, avoided the rush for the exit after Russian Elena Vesnina retired with a thigh strain while trailing 6-1 3-0.
A tournament which began with nine of the world’s top 10 players at least kept its remaining two as eighth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus also powered on.
The world number nine, a three-times title winner on the women’s WTA Tour this year, beat Czech Lucie Safarova 7-5 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with China’s Li Na.
Sharapova recovered from an error-strewn first set to reach the last eight of a tournament she won in 2005.
The 22-year-old called coach Michael Joyce on court for advice at the end of the set before storming through the second to level the match and turn the tide in her favour.
Pumping up the volume as the ferocity of her hitting increased, Sharapova secured the crucial break at 2-2 in the decider by smashing a forehand return across court.
The three-times grand slam winner sealed victory with a vicious kick serve that bamboozled Kleybanova and celebrated by blowing kisses to all corners of the crowd.
FRESH BREATH
“Michael’s come on court a few times this year,” said Sharapova, referring to the on-court coaching rule approved for this season by the WTA Tour.
“I use it to give me a little boost of energy, not change anything drastically. He just gave me a few pointers. It pumps you up a little bit, gives you that fresh breath of air.”
Sharapova’s next opponent is Czech Iveta Benesova, who knocked out Taiwanese qualifier Chang Kai-chen—shock conqueror of world number one Dinara Safina—with a 7-5 6-2 win.
Jankovic, who finished 2008 as the world number one, was cruising when Vesnina threw in the towel in cold conditions under a closed centre court roof as rain lashed Tokyo Bay.
“My goal is to make the (WTA Tour’s season-ending) championships,” the world number eight said. “I’m really not worrying about what’s happening to the other seeds.”
Jankovic next plays 14th seed Marion Bartoli after the Frenchwoman scored a 4-6 6-2 7-5 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Safina, second seed Venus Williams and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova all lost their opening matches on Monday after first-round byes.

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