LONDON, England - Two of the WTA's biggest stars battled into the third round of Wimbledon on Thursday, with Maria Sharapova finally putting away a grass court guru and Serena Williams stopping an on-fire qualifier.
The No.1-seeded Sharapova was leading Tsvetana Pironkova a set and 3-1 when play was suspended on Wednesday night due to darkness, and when they resumed Pironkova rallied to take the second set in a tie-break; but as has been her MO the last year and a half Sharapova kicked it into high gear in the third set, taking just 29 minutes to complete a 76(3) 67(3) 60 escape.
"Today I wanted to start off really well because I knew I was up a break, but it didn't go according to plan. I really served sloppy," Sharapova said. "In the third I changed it around. There wasn't anything specific I did - we were playing with the same balls, I played with the same racquet - I just told myself to do better."
Pironkova went into the match with five Top 5 wins to her name, including two on clay and three on grass - Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva here in previous years, and Agnieszka Radwanska at Eastbourne last week.
"If she played on grass 365 days a year she'd be Top 5," Sharapova said. "It doesn't work that way, but she has the perfect game for it. She always does really well against top players - she really rises for the occasion. I haven't seen too many of her other matches but every time I play against her and every time I see her face a tough opponent, especially here, she plays extremely well."
Sharapova will next have a first-time meeting with Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-Wei. The 26-year-old Hsieh, who hits with two hands off both sides, won her first WTA title earlier this year at Kuala Lumpur, the second player from her country ever to win a WTA title (Wang Shi-Ting won six in the mid-1990s).
The No.6-seeded Williams followed Sharapova into the third round with a 61 64 win over Hungarian qualifier Melinda Czink. Czink had come from the qualies and scored the fastest win of the entire first round, 39 minutes - but Williams was just too strong, hitting 22 winners - including 10 aces - to eight errors.
"Serving-wise it was definitely better, more consistent. So it's something to be happy about," Williams said. "I feel really good. I'm always wanting to be so perfect that sometimes I want to do too much - it's something I'm working on.
"I play really well when I'm relaxed, so I've just got to get there."
Williams has beaten Zheng in all five of their previous meetings, though the last two have gone three sets. This is also a rematch of their semifinal match here in 2008, which Williams won in straight sets, albeit barely - Zheng, who was China's first Grand Slam semifinalist, had set point in the second set.