Sharapova survives shaky start at Australian Open

Top-seeded Maria Sharapova beat Camille Pin 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in her opening-round match at the Australian Open.

Top-seeded Maria Sharapova avoided a stunning third-set collapse, overcoming the searing heat and her own mistakes to beat Camille Pin 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 on Tuesday in the first round of the Australian Open.

The heat was 36 C and rising at midday and forced tournament officials to suspend new matches on the outside courts for at least four hours.

While that didn't save Sharapova and Pin from almost three hours in the blazing sun, it meant second-ranked Rafael Nadal had the roof closed for the following match on centre court, his 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 win over American Robert Kendrick.

Sharapova, her screeching intensifying as the temperature and the pressure increased, won five straight games to open the third set and appeared ready to finish off her opponent quickly.

Then, she hit a wall.

"It was hard to think about what you were going to do on court," the 19-year-old Russian said, claiming the heat made her "delusional" at times.

As Pin ran off five straight games, fending off match points in the eighth game, to tie it up, Sharapova's shoulders drooped with each error.

She held for 6-5, but appeared ready to be sick at any moment. Sharapova called for the trainer as Pin headed back onto the court, stretching in the shade to stay loose.

Sharapova was barely moving between points, conserving energy, and squandered her third match point as Pin served in the next game.

Then, Sharapova was broken again, allowing Pin to serve for the match.

Sharapova 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.

Sharapova has not lost in the first round at a major since her first two Grand Slam tournaments in 2003.

She has reached the quarter-finals in nine of the last 11 Slams, including her U.S. Open win in September.

Her escape Tuesday meant Virginia Ruzici remains the only top-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the Australian championship in the Open era, falling to Australian Mary Sawyer in 1979.

Sharapova, who had trouble with her serve and was broken six times in a blur of 65 unforced errors, said she felt pain in her lower stomach late in the match.

She saw a doctor after the match and confirmed it was nothing more than cramping.

Highly irritated,Sharapova also yelled an obscenity at chair umpire John Blom after he ordered a point replayed because a second ball dropped on the court behind Pin.

Extreme Heat Policy enforced

When an announcement followed the match that due to the extreme heat policy, the roof would be closed at Rod Laver Arena,

Sharapova raised her hands over her head, clapped and gave the announcer the thumbs up.

Pin, a Frenchwoman who has only reached the second round twice in 15 majors, unsettled Sharapova with her composure and by relentlessly keeping the ball in play.

Nadal took just more than two hours to beat Kendrick, who forced him to five sets at Wimbledon last year after taking a 2-0 lead.

This time, Kendrick didn't get a break point against the muscular Spaniard.

The extreme heat policy, which measures conditions by combining the air and court surface temperatures, was invoked halfway through the Sharapova-Pin match.

Current matches were allowed to finish, but no new matches could start on outside courts.

Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian grew stronger in the heat as Janko Tipsarevic wilted, but was critical of the decision to keep some matches going while others were delayed.

Tipsarevic retired with heat exhaustion in the fifth, more than 90 minutes after he wasted his chance at serving for the match, with Nalbandian leading 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0, 2-1.

Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, a quarter-finalist or better at four of the last six Australian Opens, led Christophe Rochus 6-2, 4-1 when the Belgian retired because of breathing difficulties.

Fifth-seeded James Blake ousted Spain's Carlos Moya 7-6 (8), 6-2, 6-4, beating the former world No. 1 for the second time since Saturday, while No. 13 Tomas Berdych beat South Korea's Lee Hyung-taik 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

In women's matches, No. 4 Kim Clijsters, who plans to retire at the end of the year to start a family, downed Vasilisa Bardina 6-0, 6-0 in 44 minutes; and No. 6 Martina Hingis, a three-time winner here, beat Nathalie Dechy of France 6-0, 6-2.

Ana Ivanovic, the No. 13 seed,advanced with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Vania King and India's Sania Mirza was a 6-3, 7-5 winner over Olga Savchuk.