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Sharapova saves two match points, advances

MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova had a narrow escape in the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday, saving two match points with big forehand winners before beating No. 150-ranked Alexandra Panova 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.

Second-seeded Sharapova made 51 unforced errors as she went for the lines, but kept swinging hard and saved some of her best ground strokes for when she needed them most.

She faced two match points in the 10th game of the third set, stepping into a return winner on a weak second serve and later ripping a forehand winner deep into the corner against fellow Russian Panova, a qualifier who entered the Australian Open without a single match win at five previous majors.

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian Open and has five Grand Slam titles, struggled with her serve in the second and third sets as the match extended to 2 hours, 32 minutes in a temperatures topping 33 Celsius (91F).

"I'm just happy to get through — I was one point away twice today from being out of the tournament," said Sharapova, who started the season by winning the Brisbane International title. "I was not playing my best tennis today.

"I think she played a pretty inspired match. She came out here with not much to lose and swinging freely and going for her shots."

Sharapova raised her intensity in the final set, screeching loudly as she fought to control rallies and clenching her left fist as she prepared to receive. She is the only Grand Slam champion remaining in her half of the draw.

In earlier second-round matches, No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova beat Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-4, No. 21 Peng Shuai had a 6-1, 6-1 win over Magdalena Rybarikova, No. 22 Karolina Pliskova beat Oceane Dodin 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 and Carina Witthoeft defeated Christina McHale 6-3, 6-0.

Serena and Venus Williams withdrew from their first-round doubles match on Wednesday, but tournament officials did not immediately specify a reason. Both of the sisters have second-round singles matches on Thursday.

On the men's side, three-time finalist Andy Murray didn't let the parochial crowds in Margaret Court Arena bother him as he beat Australian Marinko Matosevic 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.

Matosevic's first-round opponent, Alexander Kudryavtsev, accused boisterous Australian fans of behaving like "animals" after losing in five sets to the Melbourne resident.

After Wednesday's match, Murray laughed as he said: "It was a fun atmosphere to play today. Even if not everyone was supporting me."

Seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych advanced with a 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-2 win over Austrian qualifier Jurgen Melzer, moving into the third round along with No. 14 Kevin Anderson and No. 24 Richard Gasquet.

Berdych, a Wimbledon finalist in 2010, lost to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals last year at Melbourne Park, where he has reached the quarterfinals or better ever since 2011.

Three of the men's seeds were beaten, with 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis defeating No. David Goffin 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0, Viktor Troicki beating No. 26 Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 and No. 32 Martin Klizan retiring after one game in the fourth set against Joao Sousa.

Maria Sharapova watches her return to Alexandra Panova during their second-round match at the Australian Open. AP PHOTO