Sharapova Almost Blows It In Paris

APMarat Safin returning between his legs during his first round win over Monaco's Jean-Rene Lisnard on Wednesday.
PARIS -- Top-seeded Maria Sharapova struggled with her serve in the wind at the French Open and barely managed to defeat 103rd-ranked Yevgenia Rodina 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 in the first round Wednesday.

Reigning men's champion Rafael Nadal improved his career record at the French Open to 22-0, beating Brazilian qualifier Thomaz Bellucci 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in their rain-delayed first-round match.

Nadal, seeded No. 2 behind Roger Federer, is trying to become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1981 to win the clay-court Grand Slam tournament four years in a row. Bellucci was playing in his first main-draw match at a major.

Sharapova had 17 double-faults and landed only 64 percent of her first serves in the match on center court, where she is trying to complete a career Grand Slam at the clay-court major.

"I was very close to losing this match," Sharapova said. "Not many things were working for me today after the first set."

Fellow Russian Rodina, 19, came within two points of winning at 5-4 in the third set, but Sharapova won the next two with strong serves to hold. At 6-6, Sharapova finally regained control by breaking serve for the first time in the final set, turning on a second serve with a big forehand return that caught Rodina flat-footed.

Then, serving for the match, Sharapova double-faulted again, but took the next three points in a row to end it.

In the fifth game of the second set, Sharapova double-faulted three straight times. After the third, she put her hands on her hips and stared blankly.

"I had problems in every department of my game today, so I'll have to improve on every aspect of those things," Sharapova said.

Sharapova didn't blame the conditions for her poor play, and was able to keep her sense of humor about the strong wind.

"Apart from eating and breathing the sand, it was great," Sharapova said.

Seventh-seeded Yelena Dementieva of Russia also advanced, beating Vera Dushevina 6-7, 6-0, 6-2, but No. 9 Marion Bartoli was upset by Casey Dellacqua 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. No. 18 Francesca Schiavone defeated Jill Craybas of the United States 6-3, 6-2.

In the men's draw, Russia's Marat Safin overcame Monaco's Jean-Rene Liscard 6-7, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in another rain-delayed game, No. 25 Lleyton Hewitt defeated Nicolas Mahut of France 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 and No. 21 Radek Stepanek beat Gilles Simon of France 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.

2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero retired with leg pain while leading Marcos Daniel of Brazil 7-6, 2-2.