Maria Sharapova, seeded third and one of the few women other than Serena Williams given a chance to win this U.S. Open, needed to find her full survival mode Monday in the first round.
Sharapova, 24, needed three sets and 2 hours 34 minutes to oust 19-year-old Heather Watson of Britain, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. Watson, ranked 104th in the world, was making her U.S. Open debut and it was in Arthur Ashe Stadium. By the final set, fans had embraced Watson's quietly powerful game, chanting "Hea-ther Wat-son," often as a noise counterpunch to Sharapova's achingly loud shrieking.
The last of Sharapova's three major titles was at the 2006 U.S. Open and her seeding here is her highest at a Grand Slam since she was third at the 2008 Wimbledon.
Sharapova overcame 58 unforced errors and eight double faults
This season Sharapova is 12-0 in three-set matches. She said her best explanation for that is, "I guess no matter how tired I am, I keep going for it, keep fighting for it.
"I knew I wasn't playing my best," Sharapova said. "The goal on a day like this is just to get through."
As for her opponent, Sharapova said, "I think she showed some of her best tennis today. She played really smart, especially in the first set when I was making so many errors."
-- Diane Pucin, reporting from New York
Photo: Maria Sharapova returns a backhand shot to Heather Watson during her first-round match at the U.S. Open on Monday. Credit: Mike Groll / Associated Press