BEIJING: Top seed Maria Sharapova produced a stuttering 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Israel's Shahar Peer yesterday to reach the China Open quarter-finals.
By contrast, Wimbledon champion Venus Williams blew past Spaniard Nuria Llagostera Vives 6-3, 6-1 in the evening session despite an injury scare over her left knee.
Even a 10-strong cheerleading squad of Chinese models in skimpy tennis skirts and sporting blonde Sharapova wigs failed to inspire the world number one in her first match in two weeks.
The Russian teenager closed out a flawless first set with a vicious forehand down the line after 28 minutes but was punished for some sloppy play in the second.
The world number one was broken three times as the 48th-ranked Peer levelled the second-round match in Beijing.
But Sharapova quickly recovered her composure and the 18-year-old comfortably took the deciding set to win her first competitive match since reaching the US Open semi-finals.
Sharapova, who has won four of her 10 career titles in Asia, will play Japan's Shinobu Asagoe in the last eight. Asagoe overpowered American Jill Craybas 6-2, 6-4 on an outside court.
Third seed Venus was never threatened by Vives, although she was forced to take an injury time-out at 4-1 in the second set for treatment on her knee.
The former world number one appeared to suffer no ill effects as she polished off the last two games before dancing a jig of delight.
On Wednesday, a shambolic Serena Williams suffered the worst loss of her career, losing a 6-2, 7-6 (9-7) opening match to 127th-ranked Sun Tiantian.
Former world number one Williams couldn't have looked less interested in the proceedings on court as she all but sleep-walked through to the second-round loss. Wearing no jewellery, even her trademark scream had gone missing.
The defeat marked the lowest point on court for the seven-time Grand Slam winner since going full-time on the WTA in 1997.
n KOLKATA: Indian teenage sensation Sania Mirza was upset by unfancied Hungarian Melinda Czink in the second round of the Kolkata Open on Wednesday.
Third seed Mirza, the toast of her nation after a sensational year that has lifted her to 34 in the world rankings, swept the first set before losing 6-0, 4-6, 4-6.
Russian top-seed Anastasia Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion aiming for her first WTA title of the year, thrashed Romania's Edina Gallovits 6-1, 6-0 in the first round.
The 18-year-old Mirza's defeat stunned the packed crowd into silence at the indoor event.
Mirza, the first Indian woman to win a WTA singles event when she triumphed at the Hyderabad Open in February, served 10 double faults and committed a series of unforced errors that allowed Czink, ranked 121, to clinch victory. Agencies