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Sharapova sticks to own path in lead-up to finals

PARIS -- Maria Sharapova found a way to win ugly on Wednesday as she overcame difficult conditions to battle past Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 7-5, 6-2 to reach the French Open third round.

Following the shock exit of defending champion Serena Williams and China's second seed Li Na's elimination 24 hours earlier, the Russian star, 27, is the leading favorite to take the 2014 title.

However the Russian four-time Grand Slam winner, who won Roland Garros in 2012, said cold, blustery conditions were difficult and a reason for her 27 unforced errors.

“I think it's always a challenge to go into a match knowing that it's going to be cold and might be a bit windy. So you have to mentally be prepared for that,” said Sharapova, who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old when she won Wimbledon in 2004.

“Once I got the break back in the first set, I started feeling a bit more aggressive and much better about my game, and I was able to hold that until the end of the match.”

When asked about the upsets in the women's draw and an easier route to the final without Williams or Li Na she replied: “I think you always have to follow your path and always concentrate on your work and who's ahead of you and not get worried about what's going on.

“Obviously when you go on court you're aware of a lot of the upsets, not just in the women but in the men, as well.”

Sharapova, who has now won all five meetings against Pironkova, trailed 4-2 in the opening set before reeling off three straight games to take the lead for the first time at 5-4.

An 80 percent first serve winning percentage helped edge the set and appeared to break the spirit of the Bulgarian.

At 2-2 in the second set, Sharapova again went on a roll, reeling off the next four games to wrap up the match in 1 hour and 32 minutes.

She improved her record on clay this year to 14 and 1, after wins in Stuttgart and Madrid left her with 31 titles on the WTA circuit.

The world number eight now faces Romania's Monica Niculescu or Paula Ormaechea of Argentina for a place in the last 16.

Their match was suspended with Niculescu leading 6-2, 2-0 when bad light stopped play.

The men's tournament was sedate by comparison.

Second seed Novak Djokovic, the 2012 runner-up who needs a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam, enjoyed a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Jeremy Chardy of France to reach the last 32.

Djokovic took his record over the world number 42 to 9-0.

Roger Federer, the 2009 champion and fourth seed, also reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Argentine qualifier Diego Sebastian Schwartzman.

It was Federer's 60th win at Roland Garros as he goes on to face Russian 31st seed Dmitry Tursunov for a place in the last 16.

Also progressing were Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych who beat Alexsandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 and Milos Raonic, the eighth-seeded Canadian who defeated Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-1.

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Maria Sharapova, of Russia, pauses between points as she plays Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova during the second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros ...

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