Sharapova bounces back

Maria Sharapova is unseeded at the Rogers Cup and ranked 49th on the WTA Tour. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

Maria Sharapova is unseeded at the Rogers Cup and ranked 49th on the WTA Tour. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Shouts in strong Russian accents reverberated around the Rexall Centre last night, as a balalaika-friendly crowd exhorted both Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova to display their unique brand of stringed instruments.

But it was Petrova who looked to be mouthing a few expletive lyrics in her native tongue, during and after the 6-3, 6-4 loss. Easily winning the opening game of each set against her more famous opponent, she let Sharapova off the ropes in first-round action at the Rogers Cup. Sharapova improved to 8-1 lifetime against her opponent.

"I saw a lot of Russian flags and I definitely heard the people," Sharapova said of the evening crowd of 9,596, bringing the day's gate to 18,898.

"I wasn't thinking about it (being similar crowd support for Petrova). When you're out there, you forget about who is on the other side of the net. We know each other's game every well, so the main thing is execution."

Sharapova, coming off shoulder problems that limited her to multi-media off-court fashion pursuits for nine months up until May, is unseeded in this event and ranked 49th on the WTA Tour.

Appearing overpowered by her countrywoman's serve early on, she let the 27th-ranked Petrova entangle herself in six double faults and 30 unforced errors.

The back breaker for Petrova was letting Sharapova back in after taking a 40-love lead at 1-1 in the second set, then quickly falling behind 5-2.

Sharapova is on a carefully managed comeback trail, that followed treatment for a rotator cuff problem that included visits to a Toronto clinic.

"It's tough to think about the winner's circle yet," Sharapova said. "I hate to say it, but you take it one match at a time, get better every time."

With the U.S. Open on the horizon, it's vital for Sharapova to do well at the Rogers Cup where so many of the top-10 players on the tour have signed on with the addition of $600,000 US, bumping the prize money to $2 million.

Sharapova never has made it past the second round of this event in two tries, but acknowledged that about 200,000 Russian-speaking peoples live in the Greater Toronto Area and a good number show up when she plays.

"It's very important, in every single city," she said before the tournament at a news conference at the CN Tower. "I can really hear them. You can tell because they call me by my Russian name -- Mariya."

Other tournament seeds besides No. 10 Petrova to fall yesterday included No. 13 Marion Bartoli and No. 15 Amelie Mauresmo.

In addition to three Canadian singles players losing, Stephanie Dubois and Rebecca Marino were beaten by Russians Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 10-6 in doubles play.


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