MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Top-seeded Maria Sharapova avoided a stunning third-set collapse, overcoming mistakes and the searing heat to beat Camille Pin, 6-3, 4-6, 9-7, today in the first round of the Australian Open.
The heat -- 97 degrees and rising at midday -- forced tournament officials to suspend new matches on the outside courts for at least four hours.
Sharapova, her screeching intensifying as the temperature and the pressure increased, won five consecutive games to start the third set and appeared ready to finish off her opponent quickly. Then she hit a wall.
As Pin ran off five consecutive games -- fending off match points in the eighth game -- to tie the score, Sharapova's shoulders drooped with each error.
She held for 6-5, but appeared ready to be sick at any moment, once stopping her service motion to grab her left hip and grimace. Sharapova called for the trainer as Pin headed back to the court, stretching in the shade to stay loose.
Sharapova was barely moving between points, conserving energy. She squandered her third match point as Pin served in the next game.
Then Sharapova was broken again, allowing Pin to serve for the match.
The 19-year-old Russian got back on serve when Pin double-faulted on break point to make it 7-7, then won the next eight points to end the match in just under three hours.
"This was one of the toughest matches -- obviously not one of my best," Sharapova said. "Most important, I'm looking forward to recovering."
Sharapova has not lost in the first round at a major since her first two Grand Slam tournaments in 2003. She has reached the quarterfinals in nine of the last 11 Grand Slam events, including her U.S. Open win in September.
Sharapova, who had trouble with her serve and was broken six times in a blur of 65 unforced errors, said she had stomach pain late in the match.
"I started in the second set getting a pinch, I'm not sure if it was cramps," Sharapova said. "I finally decided to call the trainer. I didn't know if it was serious."
Third-seeded Kim Clijsters took advantage of the closed arena, allowing Vasilisa Bardina only two points on her own serve in a 6-0, 6-0 rout.
Sixth-seeded Martina Hingis, a three-time champion here, was almost as ruthless in her 6-0, 6-2 win over 2005 semifinalist Nathalie Dechy on the second showcourt.
In the men's draw, eighth-seeded David Nalbandian grew stronger in the heat as Janko Tipsarevic wilted.
Tipsarevic retired because of heat exhaustion in the fifth set, more than 90 minutes after he wasted his chance at serving for the match.
Nalbandian, an Australian Open semifinalist last year, won, 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0, 2-1.
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain defeated former Pepperdine player Robert Kendrick, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2, Robby Ginepri advanced with a five-set win over Nicolas Almagro of Spain and Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland beat former UCLA standout Kevin Kim in four sets.
In women's matches, 13th-seeded Ana Ivanovic advanced with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Vania King of Long Beach.
Mardy Fish produced the biggest upset, ousting men's fourth-seeded Ivan Ljubicic, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4, Monday.
"It was a great opportunity to play someone like him, to show everyone I can play, that I'm back," said Fish, who slumped as low as No. 341 last year while recovering from two operations on his left wrist.