World No. 2 Maria Sharapova staved off a strong challenge from Lucie Safarova to beat her Czech opponent in a straight sets 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) victory on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals of the Pan Pacific Open.
The career Gram Slam titleholder dominated the first set, but the world 17th-ranked player dug deep in her energy reserves to force a tiebreaker in the second on a balmy day on center court at Ariake Tennis Forest Park.
Sharapova, making her seventh appearance here with titles in 2005 and 2009, rolled out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, but Safarova bounced back and broke the Russian former world No. 1 at triple breakpoint in the fifth game.
The pair played a see-saw battle, tying it twice at 4-4 and 5-5, and Safarova broke Sharapova again in the 11th game before her serve deserted her in the next game to force the extras.
“After winning the first set, and going up 3-0 in the second, I think I became a little frustrated. I thought I had the momentum,” said Sharapova, adding that she struggled against the lefty’s serve.
“The spin comes from a different direction (than right-handers), and it takes a little longer to get used to. When her serve is on, it can become quite tricky,” she said.
Sharapova took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreak, but Safarova rallied to tie it at 4-4. The Russian pulled ahead and served out the match with an ace on the final point to finish in 1 hour, 43 minutes. Sharapova will next face Australian No. 8 seed Samantha Stosur, a 6-4, 7-5 winner over Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova in another third-round match.
Asked her prospects on facing Stosur in the quarterfinals on Thursday, Sharapova said, “I have a good record against her. But she is certainly a solid player; uses a lot of spin. It will be important to keep improving and play at a higher level against her.”
Stosur, ranked ninth in the world and making her sixth appearance here, improved to 3-0 for her career against the world 13th-ranked Cibulkova, who played for the fourth time in Tokyo. Stosur broke her opponent three times and saved four out of five break points.
Italy’s Sara Errani, the No. 6 seed, took advantage of France’s Marion Bartoli’s errant service game to rally in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win. Ninth-seed Bartoli shot herself down with 12 double faults.
“It was a different environment than I’m used to and a faster surface, so it was harder to play my game. I didn’t start well, but from the second set after the first three games, she was more tired and I played a little better,” said Errani.
Russian Nadia Petrova, the 17th seed, outlasted Croat Petra Martic 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (1-7), 6-4 to reach the final eight.