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Monday, August 27, 2012
Maria Sharapova cruises in win

ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Maria Sharapova's stomachache turned out to be nothing more than that.

That lopsided loss she suffered at the Olympics -- well, that may have only been a false alarm, as well.

Playing her first match since a blowout loss to Serena Williams in London and a stomach virus that forced her out of two tuneup tournaments, Sharapova returned to tennis in fine fashion Monday at the U.S. Open.

The third-seeded Russian came back from a three-week break and defeated Melinda Czink of Hungary 6-2, 6-2 in a stress-free, 67-minute first-round match at blustery Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka needed only 50 minutes to defeat Alexandra Panova 6-0, 6-1 in her opening match.

Azarenka, the Australian Open champion, is trying to become the first top-seeded woman to win a Grand Slam tournament since Williams captured the Wimbledon title in 2010.

Sharapova's victory in front of the half-filled stadium was her first match since a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Williams at the London Games in a gold-medal showdown that looked and felt more like one of these first-round wipeouts Sharapova usually inflicts.

Turns out, Sharapova was dealing with some stomach pain then, which only got worse a few weeks later. She went to the doctor for a series of tests, including an ultrasound to see if she was pregnant. The test turned up negative.

"Just because of the pain I was having, it was really weird," Sharapova said. "They told me I was fine, not pregnant. Then, I'm like, 'Can I get my money back?' "

It has been an eventful summer for one of tennis' biggest stars.

After serving as the flagbearer for Russia, then finishing as the silver medalist at the Olympics at Wimbledon, Sharapova's original plan was to come to North America and play in tuneups in Montreal and Cincinnati to acclimate herself to the hard courts.

But the Olympics took a lot out of Sharapova, and when she arrived in Canada, she got knocked down by a stomachache so bad that she went to the doctor.

It turned out to be a virus -- her body's way of telling her to take it easy, she said, so she withdrew from the events and took a few weeks off.

"It was a nice break in a way, but after so many weeks of practicing, you're just eager to get back on the court," she said.

She looked eager to get off the court, as well, showing very few signs of rust against her 88th-ranked opponent.

Wearing a soft-pink dress with a touch of mauve -- more subdued than what she usually wears for, say, a nighttime appearance -- Sharapova served five aces and maxed out at 115 mph. It took her 31 minutes to finish the first set and she was up 3-0 in the second before Czink got her only break.

That made things only mildly interesting, and only for a very short time. Leading 4-2, Sharapova won one point by chasing a ball almost into the stands on the sidelines, reaching out to get it back, then closing in on the net to win the point. Czink stood there shaking her head, hardly believing what she had just seen.

Sharapova said it was no problem getting the blowout loss to Williams out of her mind.

"It doesn't stick with you," she said. "I mean, personally, I've been part of many different types of matches in my career. Looking back at that week, it was really special. It was so hectic."

Azarenka has never been past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.

She had 20 winners to only two for Panova, the 76th-ranked Russian who is still in search of her first win in the main draw of a Grand Slam.

The routine wins closed out a day session filled mostly with by-the-book results: Defending champion Samantha Stosur's 6-1, 6-1 victory over Croatia's Petra Martic and, of course, a two-hour rain delay at a tournament that has finished on a Monday for four straight years because of bad weather.

No. 23 Kim Clijsters also put her 21-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows up against 16-year-old American Victoria Duval, the youngest player in the field, but came out victorious, stretching the streak to 22 games.

Clijsters has left Flushing Meadows with the title each of the last three times she played -- in 2005, 2009 and 2010. She missed the Grand Slam tournament in 2011 because of an injured stomach muscle.

The 29-year-old Belgian is retiring after this year's U.S. Open.

Duval, who is based in Bradenton, Fla., was making her tour-level main-draw debut after earning a berth by winning the under-18 U.S. national championship.

Duval actually led 3-2 after 13 minutes Monday. But Clijsters quickly gained control and won 10 of the last 11 games.

Stosur wrapped up her win before the rain came and any thought that the early round jitters might get to her -- the way they did in first-round exits at the Australian Open and the Olympics or a second-round loss at Wimbledon -- were over before the crowd even got settled.

The seventh-seeded Aussie won the first 19 points -- she was five away from a perfect set before she double-faulted -- and needed only 51 minutes to finish the match.

"It did pop into my head for a split second," Stosur said of the prospect of a golden set. "Then I hit the double fault and it was erased and I was quickly on with the next point."

Other winners included 11th-seeded Marion Bartoli and No. 9 Li Na in the women's draw.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.