BEIJING, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Former world number one Maria Sharapova struggled into the second round of the China Open on Sunday with a laboured 6-4 7-6 victory over unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova.
The Russian had trouble finding consistency during her Beijing opener as world number 32 Pironkova put up spirited resistance in the second set.
A glum-looking Sharapova did not even celebrate her progress in the Chinese capital after a second set tiebreak ended the two hour, seven minute slog.
“The first rounds are always difficult. You just try to find your way and your rhythm. At the end of the day, I found a way to win and that was the most important thing today,” said 12th seed Sharapova.
The Russian, dumped out of the Tokyo Open in the first round by 40-year-old Japanese player Kimiko Date Krumm last month, said she was struggling to find her form.
“I faced a tough opponent today,” said Sharapova after a match featuring fierce rallies and multiple break opportunities under a hot Chinese autumn sun and strong winds.
“I think consistency is one of my problems and I need to cut down on the errors. I had to change my motion after surgery on my shoulder.”
Fourth seed Samantha Stosur suffered a shock exit when she lost to Latvian qualifier Anastasija Sevastova despite comfortably securing the first set 6-2. The Australian then lost the second set 7-6 and the third 7-5.
Unseeded Argentine Gisela Dulko also caused an upset by knocking out France’s Aravane Rezai 6-4 2-6 6-4.
The $4.5 million China Open runs until Oct. 10 and is headlined by Danish world number two Caroline Wozniacki with 16 of the world’s top 20 female players due to play in Beijing.
Wozniacki, 20, is two victories away from being propelled to the summit of the world rankings following her Saturday tournament win in Tokyo and Beijing no-shows by the top players.
American world number three Venus Williams pulled out due to injury just before the competition began, following her sister and world number one Serena who withdrew earlier.
U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters withdrew earlier in the week with a foot injury.