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Sharapova needs 8-6 win in third set to overcome Rodina

PARIS -- When the ball was in play, Maria Sharapova at least was able to make something happen.

The top-seeded Russian struggled with her serve in the wind at the French Open and barely managed to defeat 103rd-ranked Evgeniya Rodina 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 Wednesday in the first round.

Serena Williams had an easier time advancing to the third round. Williams, seeded fifth, quickly erased a second-set deficit by winning the last four games and beat Mathilde Johansson of France 6-2, 7-5.

"I haven't played my best tennis," said Williams, who won the French Open title in 2002. "Hopefully in the next round I'll play better."

Williams, the only past women's champion competing at Roland Garros this year, has made it to the third round at 33 of the 34 major championships she's entered during her career. The only time she didn't was a second-round loss at the 1998 Australian Open in her Grand Slam debut.

Sharapova had 17 double faults and landed only 64 percent of her first serves in the match on center court, where she is trying to complete a career Grand Slam at the clay-court major.

"I was very close to losing this match," Sharapova said. "Not many things were working for me today after the first set."

The 19-year-old Rodina came within two points of winning at 5-4 in the third set, but Sharapova won the next two to hold.

At 6-6, Sharapova regained control by breaking serve for the first time in the final set, returning a second serve with a big forehand that caught Rodina flat-footed.

Then, serving for the match, Sharapova double-faulted one final time, but took the next three points to end it.

In the fifth game of the second set, Sharapova double-faulted three times in a row. After the third, Sharapova put her hands on her hips and stared blankly.

Although the three-time Grand Slam champion was having trouble landing her serves, she was more consistent with her groundstrokes, often playing long rallies before hitting a winner or waiting for Rodina to make a mistake.

"I just hung in there. It was far from my best tennis today," Sharapova said. "But at the end of the day you try to learn from your mistakes."

Sharapova didn't directly blame the windy conditions for her poor play.

"Apart from eating and breathing the sand, it was great," she said.

Sharapova dominated the first set, losing only her first service game. In one stretch, she won 10 of 11 points to take a 4-1 lead.

But the Russian then double-faulted three times in the following game before she held.

Rodina broke Sharapova in the first game of the second set, and then held for the first time to take a 2-0 lead. She held the rest of the way and broke Sharapova again in the final game of the set.

Rodina was playing in her first Grand Slam tournament. She lost in the first qualifying round at the Australian Open this year.

"This is life," Rodina said with a laugh. "I could have won, but it's OK."

Rain delays in the first three days of the tournament gave way to strong wind on Day 4, when organizers hoped to cut through a huge backlog of matches.

Second-seeded Ana Ivanovic advanced to the third round. Last year's French Open finalist easily beat Lucie Safarova 6-1, 6-2.

No. 10 Patty Schnyder, No. 14 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 30 Caroline Wozniacki also reached the third round.

No. 7 Elena Dementieva, No 6. Anna Chakvetadze and No. 11 Vera Zvonareva all advanced, as well.

Dementieva picked herself up after losing a tough first set to beat fellow
Russian Vera Dushevina 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-2.

Dementieva
lost the opener 8-6 in the
tiebreak after a tense 67-minute set, but then reeled off 11
straight games before wrapping up the victory in 2 hours and 23
minutes.

She will play Poland's Marta Domachowska in the second
round.

In the completion of a match delayed by rain, Australian Casey Dellacqua knocked out No. 9 seed Marion Bartoli 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.

Bartoli led 6-5 when rain ended
play on Tuesday but she could not find her pace on Wednesday,
bowing out after 2:02.

Dellacqua will next face another Frenchwoman, Nathalie
Dechy, for a place in the third round.

No. 18 Francesca Schiavone also advanced, defeating Jill Craybas of the United States 6-3, 6-2.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.