Sharapova stutters into China Open quarters
Top seed Maria Sharapova produced a stuttering 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Israel's Shahar Peer on Thursday to reach the China Open quarter-finals.
Even a 10-strong cheerleading squad of Chinese models in skimpy tennis skirts and sporting blonde Sharapova wigs failed to inspire the world number one in her first match in two weeks.
The Russian teenager closed out a flawless first set with a vicious forehand down the line after 28 minutes but was punished for some sloppy play in the second.
Sharapova was broken three times as the 48th-ranked Peer leveled the second-round match in Beijing.
But she quickly recovered and the 18-year-old comfortably took the deciding set to win her first match since a tough loss to Kim Clijsters in the U.S. Open semi-finals.
"I played really well in the first set but then I just got too comfortable," said Sharapova. "I wasn't physically tired but mentally I was coasting. I just had to get myself together mentally and fight for it."
The leggy Russian, who has won four of her 10 career titles in Asia, will play Japan's Shinobu Asagoe in the last eight.
Asagoe overpowered American Jill Craybas 6-2, 6-4 on an outside court.
Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, the number three seed, takes on Spain's Nuria Llagostera Vives in Thursday's evening session.
The winner will play Poland's Marta Domachowska, who easily beat Chinese number three Zheng Jie 6-3, 6-1.
Both Williams and Sharapova received first-round byes. Venus's younger sister Serena Williams was stunned 6-2, 7-6 by China's Sun Tiantian on Wednesday.
Sun, who won an Olympic doubles gold in Athens last year, next plays Maria Kirilenko after the Russian's 6-1, 7-6 win over Japan's Aiko Nakamura.