Slow start doesn't stop Sharapova

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Maria Sharapova has many things other players on the WTA tour would love to have: fame, Grand Slam trophies, and millions of dollars in endorsements and winnings.

It would be easier to go home, live a comfortable life and not have to keep driving herself, but she craves the challenge, the competition, trying to figure out a way to win every match.

Shahar Peer gave world No. 2 Sharapova all she could handle Thursday at the Sony Ericsson Open, pushing their match into a 2 1/2-hour slugfest. But Sharapova picked up her play in the final sets to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 and advance to face Sloane Stephens in the next round.

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Maria Sharapova will next face Sloane Stephens in the third round.

Sharapova said she enjoyed finding a way to beat Peer.

"She's a pretty tough opponent, especially for a first round. She's somebody you're usually seeing as a seed in these events," Sharapova said. "She makes you hit so many balls, it's a physically tough match against her."

Peer, who was ranked as high as 11th at the start of last season, has fallen to No. 55 due to injuries.

Sharapova called the Miami tournament a tough adjustment after playing in California at the BNP Paribas Open finals last week. Switching time zones and going from the dry, desert air in Indian Wells to Miami's humidity can affect a player's game. Still, Sharapova has traditionally done well in Miami, posting three runner-up finishes and reaching at least the fourth round every year since 2004.

But this was a tight match, and after Peer framed a forehand to lose the match, Sharapova responded by putting her arms over her head in a show of relief. Nothing came easy for either player, as both planted themselves on the baseline and whaled away during rallies. Few points ended quickly, unless there was one of the 20 double faults combined from the players. Peer quickly showed she was up to absorbing Sharapova's pace. Sharapova proved to be tougher on break points, converting 50 percent of her chances (Peer converted only three of her 13 opportunities).

Sharapova's serve, a sticking point in her game since her comeback from shoulder surgery, was inconsistent at the start. On one point, she would nail an ace; then, she'd double-fault on the next. She won 69 percent of her first serves with six aces, but it was a challenge at times. Sharapova's strength came from her return of serve, often hurting Peer with her pace and pouncing aggressiveness.

Peer's game wasn't as power-laden but proved to be more stable at times. She tried to redirect Sharapova's laser-like, flat groundstrokes right back at her, forcing Sharapova to go for more to win the point, but it proved to be a dangerous gambit, especially in the second set.

Sharapova's shrieks grew louder in the second as she picked up her game to take an early 3-0 lead. Peer's consistency was sternly tested and started to wane under Sharapova's improved power and placement. The Sharapova pressure continued into the third set as she jumped out to a 4-0 start, a gap too big to recover from against Sharapova. Peer still made Sharapova work for every point and didn't give up, which is exactly what Sharapova expected.

"I shouldn't have gone to 4-3, obviously," Sharapova said. "It's a matter of going back to what helped you get to that situation, being up 4-0, what helped you break her. It's very up-and-down, for sure, in these types of a match, but you're more satisfied to pull through."

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