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NEW YORK — That Maria Sharapova’s shaky serving contributed to her early exit at the U.S. Open — to the tune of a dozen double-faults — came as no surprise. She’s faced that problem for quite some time.
That Sharapova’s other strokes also were problematic Friday could be explained away by the perpetual motion of her opponent in the third round, 26th-seeded Flavia Pennetta of Italy.
That three-time major champion Sharapova’s nerve would fail her in the crucible of a third set? Now that was the real stunner.
Unbeaten this year in 12 previous matches that went the distance, the third-seeded Sharapova faltered down the stretch and dropped the last seven points of a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 loss to Pennetta that took 2½ hours.
“She’s a good fighter, you know. You can never give up with her. You have to be focused until the last game; until the last point, actually,” Pennetta said. “But I think [at] 5-4, she was starting to feel a little bit of pressure.”
After trailing 3-0 and 4-1 in the last set, Sharapova turned things around briefly, getting to 4-all, 15-30 on Pennetta’s serve. But the 2006 U.S. Open champion wouldn’t win another point.
“I came back. I had chances. There’s no doubt I had chances,” Sharapova said. “But I guess today was the day I didn’t take them.”
The man most consider the best without a major championship, No. 4 Andy Murray, appeared on his way out too after losing the first two sets against 41st-ranked Robin Haase of the Netherlands. But with Haase getting treated by a trainer for back problems between sets, Murray came all the way back to win 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4.
Murray was asked how he reversed course.
“I started chasing a lot of balls down,” said the three-time Grand Slam finalist, who now faces No. 25 Feliciano Lopez, the player he beat in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. “At the beginning, I felt sluggish, felt slow. I started forcing myself to get every single ball.”
That’s what defending champion Rafael Nadal generally appears to do on every point of every match. After a tough test in the first round, he didn’t need to scramble all that much in the second, though, building a 6-2, 6-2 lead before Nicolas Mahut quit because of an abdominal injury he said prevented him from serving at full strength.
Next for Nadal is 2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian.
Nadal’s predecessor as U.S. Open champion, 18th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, easily advanced, while other winners included three Americans: Donald Young, who upset No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 7-6 (7), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1); No. 28 John Isner, who eliminated Robby Ginepri; and Alex Bogomolov, Jr.