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Published:May 28th, 2009 01:24 EST
The French Open at Roland Garros

Nadal and Sharapova Advance In The French Open

By Christopher HIllenbrand

World number one Rafael Nadal advancing into the French Open`s final 32 certainly wasn`t the biggest news for the tournament which the resilient Spaniard has won the last four years. Instead, Maria Sharapova got top billing as the Russian expatriate triumphed in her comeback match in the first round of the French Open: the only Grand Slam which she has not won. Roland Garros also featured the dynamic performance of a recent entry in the WTA tour: 16-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito from the United States.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal, the French Open champion over Roger Federer the past three seasons, held a contented 6-1, 6-4 lead going into the third set against his opponent Russia`s Teimuraz Gabashvili. But he prevailed in the third set 6-2 of the first round, advancing into the final 32, and claiming his 30th consecutive victory at Roland Garros: one better than the previous record held by Chris Evert.

Maria Sharapova

But the match saw Nadal breaking another impressive mark when he passed Bjorn Borg as the men`s player with the most straight wins in Paris. If the lefthander continues the streak he has established the last four years, he will be the only player in tennis history to win five French Open championships in a row.

Dinara Safina

The Mallorcan never allowed his nerves get to him, even as this appearance in Paris comes as his first in the tournament since becoming the number one ranked men`s player in the world in August of last year.

"I came here to get a result without thinking about these records," Nadal said. "The important thing is to play my best tennis and be there on the final Sunday."

His next match pits him against 48-seeded Lleyton Hewitt from Australia for a spot in the top 16.

Maria Sharapova, who has bowed out of the last two Grand Slam championships: the `09 Australian Open and `08 U.S. Open because of shoulder injury surgery, rebounded from her injury on Wednesday by defeating fellow Russian Nadia Petrova 6-2, 1-6, 8-6 in a long and gruelling match.

Sharapova has consistently been in the Top 10 on the WTA rankings system the last four years, but since she was sidelined halfway through 2008, her position on the World Tour has plummeted to 102nd, but with the win, her ranking is bound to jump.

The 2004 Wimbledon champion and Triple Grand Slam title holder will face Yaroslava Shvedovam, a qualifier from Kazakhstan, for a berth in the last 16 on the women`s side.

Though she began to fall apart during the third and final set of a match that lasted 2 hours 12 minutes, Sharapova managed to pull through and qualify for the second round of the only tournament she has yet to win.

"These types of matches are very important for me although I spent more time on the court than I wanted to," she said. "But I`m learning new things. It was a great match where I had to fight really hard and that`s what I did. I`m glad I picked myself up and I could win."

But the headlines belonged to the 16-year-old newcomer de Brito from Portugal, who is a recent alumnus of the celebrated Nick Bolletieri academy in Florida after spending nearly seven years there under the tutelage of the legendary instructor.

In her Grand Slam debut, 132-seeded de Brito, endured the qualifiers and swept the first two sets 6-4 and 6-3 facing 15th ranked Zheng Jie, securing herself a position within the second round bracket. Her opponent, Zheng Jie, posted her best performance on the WTA when she faced Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals last year.

According to de Brito, her parents uprooted their homestead earlier in her lifetime for the chance to have their athletically gifted daughter study in the illustrious tennis school in the United States.

"I went to Florida when I was nine with my family. But I feel Portugese and that will always be the case," de Brito said. "I feel super fit. I have felt a lot less pressure her than in other tournaments. I play, that`s it."

Number eight seed and reigning champion at the French Open Ana Ivanovic was curiously overlooked for her comfortable win over Thailand`s Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-2. The Serbian is looking to build on Wednesday`s success when she faces left-hander Iveta Benesova from Czech Republic in the next round, after losing her number one ranking last year.

Number three Briton Andy Murray gathered his composure and prevailed 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a match against 104th ranked Italian Potito Starace who persevered over highly favored Murray during the second set and through most of the third. Murray was down 1-5 in the third set before he went on an uncontested run in which he saved two set points. Despite a gallant attempt by the underdog in the fifth, the Scotsman finally overcame Starace and looks to compete in the second round against Janko Tipsarevic who beat Feliciano Lopez from Spain.

Marat Safin, currently ranked 22nd in the tour, was handed a loss 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 3-6, 10-8 by the French lucky loser and 133rd seed Josselin Ouanna in a four and a half hour battle. Safin, who was the world number one 9 weeks in 2000 when he won the U.S. Open, has planned to retire at the end of the 2009 tennis season.

"Christmas Day didn`t come on December 25th for him, it came today," Safin told reporters immediately following the defeat.

Lleyton Hewitt tromped Kazak Andrey Golubev in commendable fashion 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 earning him a second round matchup with Rafael Nadal.

WTA points leader Dinara Safina prolonged her French Open by yet another relatively easy first round win over fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko 6-1, 6-1. It only took Safina 55 minutes to put away the 18-year-old 151st seeded women`s player. In the first round, the world number one dominated Anne Keothavong of Britain in a match where Safina didn`t lose a single game.

The 23-year-old Russian is set to play another compatriot, the 17-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who moved on to the final 32 after defeating France`s Julie Coin 6-2, 7-6 (7/2).