Defending champion Maria Sharapova survived a first-round scare at the Stuttgart tennis tournament, scraping home in three tight sets against Czech Lucie Safarova on Tuesday.
Sixth-seeded Sharapova needed almost three-and-a-half hours to notch her 100th claycourt victory – 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-2) – three days after her 27th birthday.
Sharapova, bidding to win the tournament for the third time in a row, next faces fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated Latvian qualifier Diana Marcinkevica 6-3 6-2.
“I am really happy to be the winner,” Sharapova said. “I had the momentum and then it slipped away. There were so many ups and downs. It was a few points here and there. A match is never over until the last point is played.
“Playing her is always a challenge, especially in the first (clay) match of the season. Three months ago, I wouldn’t have pulled it out.”
Jelena Jankovic, the No.5 seed, saved four match points to come back and claim a 2-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 win over German lucky loser Mona Barthel.
No.8 seed Sara Errani recovered from a double break down in the second set to defeat Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic 6-3 6-4 for the Italian’s first win in five visits to Stuttgart.
Also on Tuesday, Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Italian qualifier Gioia Barbieri 6-2 6-3 and another Russian Alisa Kleybanova downed Croatia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2 6-4.
Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 6-4 and Italy’s Roberta Vinci had a 6-3 6-2 win over 20-year-old German qualifier Annika Beck.
The four top seeds – Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber – have first-round byes.
Kvitova faces Kleybanova on Wednesday, while the other three open on Thursday: Radwanska against Vinci, Halep v Kuznetsova and Kerber v Suarez Navarro.