Down a set in the first round of the U.S. Open, Maria Sharapova sat in her changeover chair, briefly closed her eyes, and took some deep breaths.
"I knew," she would say later, "that it wasn't over."
Whatever problems she encountered Tuesday, whatever the level of her game, all that mattered to Sharapova was the outcome. Overcoming a deficit and a big-hitting opponent to avoid a significant upset, the 2006 U.S. Open champion put together a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory against 60th-ranked Jarmila Groth of Australia.
"At the end of the day, even though I know I wasn't playing my best tennis, I know I came out with a win. And sometimes it's more important than anything, because you're giving yourself a chance to go out on the practice court tomorrow," the 14th-seeded Sharapova said. "You're giving yourself a chance to play another match and to get better, you know, maybe work on the things that today weren't working that well for you."
Groth hit 14 double-faults, including on the final point of the second set. She was by far the more aggressive of the two, taking risks that sometimes paid off and sometimes did not. She hit 24 winners to 19 for Sharapova, and made 48 unforced errors to 17 for Sharapova.
"She came out firing; didn't give me many opportunities," Sharapova said. "You just want to hang in there, get through it."
There was a lot of hanging in there on a steamy Day 2 at the U.S. Open, when the temperature rose into the mid-90s. More than a dozen women's matches went three sets, and a half-dozen men's matches lasted the full five sets, including 2007 runner-up Novak Djokovic's 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over his friend and Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki.
Tampa's Mardy Fish, seeded 19th, also won in five sets, but fellow Tampa resident James Blake needed only three to advance.
Sharapova-Groth was the day's third match in Arthur Ashe Stadium that went the full number of sets, making for a night session that started about 1 1/2 hours later than the 7 p.m. schedule.
Earlier, No. 4-seeded Jelena Jankovic, like Sharapova, needed to turn things around after losing the first set. Jankovic, the runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Open, managed to get past 18-year-old Simona Halep of Romania 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Jankovic was two points from defeat at 5-4 in the third set before taking the last three games to close out the match.
Svetlana Kuznetsova needed three sets before eliminating 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm.