World No. 2 Maria Sharapova held off British qualifier Heather Watson in a three-set thriller to reach the third round of the Pan Pacific Open on Tuesday.
Sharapova, the second seed who had a bye into the second round, came back from a set down to beat the 78th-ranked Watson 6-7 (7-9), 6-3, 6-4.
Sharapova, winner of the Tokyo meet in 2005 and 2009, struggled early when she lost the first-set tiebreaker before rebounding on center court at Ariake Tennis Forest Park against the 20-year-old Watson, who was making her debut here.
The career Grand Slam titleholder beat Watson in three sets in the first round at the 2011 U.S. Open in their only other meeting.
Watson, who has three quarterfinal finishes but no WTA singles titles, showed great resolve to break Sharapova twice in the third set, but the Russian overpowered her diminutive opponent with nine aces to just one for the Brit.
Sharapova won a challenge with the chair umpire on an ace that just stayed inbounds of the centerline to gain match-point at 40-15, and Watson thumped her racket on the court three times after hitting a forehand long to end the match after 3 hours, 9 minutes.
Earlier, wildcard Ayumi Morita put up a valiant fight against No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber but lost 6-3, 6-4, failing to advance out of the second round for the second year in a row and leaving no Japanese players left in the singles’ draw.
Germany’s Kerber, currently ranked sixth in the world, broke the 79th-ranked Morita at 3-1 en route to claiming the first set and twice more in the second. Morita fought off match-point at 40-15 in the eighth game and broke her opponent for the first time.
“The whole match was very close. I just tried to be focused on my own game,” said Kerber. “She is very hard to play against, especially here in Tokyo. This is a big win for me.”
Morita, who had held a 2-1 career record against Kerber, was unable to rally on her opponent’s serve in the 10th game and the match ended after 1 hour, 26 minutes when she hit her backhand volley wide.
“I was determined not to give up until the end. Whether I’m facing match-point or not, I am always trying for points,” said Morita. “Today I played close to an ideal match. I just needed a little more push. I was charging the net and trying to create as many chances on my own as possible.”
In other key matches, Croatia’s Petra Martic upset fourth-seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4 while seventh-seeded Li Na of China defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.
“It was a difficult match today. I practiced very well. I was feeling healthy and things were going well, but it didn’t show in the match,” said Kvitova.