Maria Sharapova saved two match points on the way to a dramatic victory over her little-known fellow Russian Alexandra Panova at the Australian Open.
Qualifier Panova, ranked 150th in the world, looked to be on her way to a stunning upset at the expense of the number two seed when she served for the second-round match at 5-4 in the deciding set.
But number two seed Sharapova retrieved a near lost cause to win 6-1 4-6 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.
The rapid manner in which 2008 Melbourne Park champion Sharapova powered through the opening set, in just 26 minutes, offered no indication of the drama that was to follow.
Panova, 25, has lost five years out of seven in qualifying for the Australian Open, and this was her first appearance in the second round.
It might have been one she would remember for all the right reasons, but instead it proved a heartbreaking missed opportunity.
Panova broke early in the second set, and again to lead 5-2, holding her nerve when serving for the set for a second time, clinching it when Sharapova paddled a backhand long.
The underdog surged 4-1 ahead in the decider too, and led 40-15 in the next game. That was where Sharapova began to gain a foothold as she reeled off four points to claim a break back.
Panova has never been higher than 71st in the women’s tour rankings but when she reached 5-4, serving for the match, the chance to claim her biggest scalp opened up.
She could take neither match point though, and a pair of bruising forehands gave Sharapova the game, levelling the set and transforming the complexion of the situation.
From that point Sharapova was untroubled, and victory was sealed after just over two and a half hours on court.
“I’m just happy to get through,” Sharapova said in an on-court interview. “I wasn’t playing my best tennis today. I think she played a pretty inspired match and she’s played a few matches in qualifying. She came out with not much to lose, swinging freely and going for her shots.
“I didn’t want to be out here for two and a half hours but that’s sometimes how it goes.”