2015 Australian Open Maria Sharapova saves match points, downs Alexandra Panova

Despite facing two match points, second seed Maria Sharapova triumphed in an Australian Open thriller.

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Second seed Maria Sharapova survived two match points to down fellow Russian Alexandra Panova 6-1 4-6 7-5 in the Australian Open second round on Wednesday.

Russian qualifier Panova had two chances to serve out what would have been the win of her career by some margin, but Sharapova gamely saved both - one via a blistering forehand winner - before eventually advancing in two hours 31 minutes.

Showing only few signs of nerves despite only facing a top-10 opponent for the third time in her career, the 25-year-old Panova instead gave Sharapova a serving lesson - one that almost took her to the last 32.

More familiar with the second-tier ITF circuit, Panova's first-round win over Sorana Cirstea was her maiden one at grand-slam level - and her unfamiliarity on centre court showed in the first set.

Panova, the 10th-best Russian according to the WTA Tour rankings, had little input early as Sharapova grunted her way to a commanding lead.

The Sharapova machine kicked into gear in the fourth game, when she started a run of nine straight points which took the match from being on serve to the second seed being on the brink of a double-break.

Panova broke the drought with an advantage-court ace, but Sharapova dominated the next point to go 4-1 up in 18 minutes.

Often her Achilles' heel, Sharapova's serve was on song in the first set - as she dropped only two points behind it - however it proved to be her downfall yet again.

In the opening game of the second set, Panova created a break-point chance - and a Sharapova double-fault handed her the lead on a platter.

Panova moved a double-break up at 5-2 as Sharapova's service percentage dropped, but the underdog also failed to serve out the set at the first time of asking.

Sharapova fended off three set points in the ninth game - two via on-the-line forehand winners - and made Panova serve for the set once more.

The world number 150 was able to convert in the 10th game, however, defying a break point in the process.

Sharapova's first-service percentage dropped from 64 to 50 from sets one to two; conversely, Panova's climbed from 64 to 70.

A hold to love - her fourth of the match - gave Sharapova a foothold in the deciding set, and a much-needed confidence booster on serve.

Now it was a case of reeling in Panova, and hoping for the nerves to set in for the 25-year-old.

They did. Eventually.

Panova was serving at 4-1 up, and 40-15, only to blow her advantage, and be serving again at 4-3 and 0-30.

Two points for the match in the 10th game were wasted, and Sharapova somehow scraped her way over the line.

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