MADRID: Maria Sharapova avoided an early exit from the Madrid Open on Tuesday, rallying to beat Christina McHale to reach the third round while Roger Federer withdrew from the men's event.
Trailing 4-1 in the final set, Sharapova steadied her erratic service game and took command again to beat the 56th-ranked American 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 on clay at the Magic Box tennis center.
The ninth-ranked Russian looked to be cruising before McHale broke late in the second set to tie the match and then took her commanding lead in the final set after breaking Sharapova.
However, Sharapova didn't surrender a point after that as McHale netted to be broken to see her advantage dip to 4-3, and Sharapova eventually fired an ace down the middle to eliminate McHale for the second year running.
"After a really good start (in Madrid) I didn't keep that level. I think I had a bit of a letdown," said 2013 finalist Sharapova, who is coming off a tournament victory in Stuttgart.
Earlier, Li Na continued her recent dominance of Zheng Jie by easing into the third round 6-2, 6-3 for her fourth straight victory against her fellow Chinese player. Zheng hasn't won a set from the second-ranked Li since her last victory in 2006.
Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic also advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia, while American Sloane Stephens was also a winner.
Federer pulled out of the Masters Series event to spend more time with his family as his wife awaits the birth of another child.
The fourth-ranked Swiss player is the second big name to withdraw after Novak Djokovic pulled out because of a wrist injury. Poland's Lukasc Kubot takes Federer's place to face Gilles Simon of France.
Fabio Fognini's recent struggles on Spanish clay continued as the 13th-seeded Italian lost 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov. Fognini failed to get out of the second round at Barcelona last month.
Nicolas Almagro will play Andy Murray next after finally dispensing with Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (4) with his 11th match point.
Other second round winners included Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, South Africa's Kevin Anderson, Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands, and Juan Monaco of Argentina -- who goes on to play defending champion Rafael Nadal on Wednesday.