Sharapova marks comeback with win


HONG KONG, January 7- Russian Maria Sharapova pulled off a comeback win against Zheng Jie at an exhibition match in Hong Kong on Wednesday as the 22-year-old sets her sights on the Australian Open later this month.Sharapova, recovering from a shoulder injury, got off to a strong start and pulled ahead of Zheng 3-1 in the first set.

But Zheng, ranked 35 in the world, fought back to even the match at 4-4 as both players traded powerful ground strokes.

The 26-year-old then took the first set 7-6 in a tie-breaker after Sharapova blasted a shot past the baseline.

Zheng continued the pressure in the second set, several times answering Sharapova’s blistering serves with a cross-court winner.

But three-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, now ranked 14 in the world, found her stride and clawed back from two games down to win the second set 6-4, forcing a third set which she took 6-2.

"(Zheng) definitely played really well but as we all know in tennis it’s never over until the last point," Sharapova told reporters after the match.

"I’ll take whatever comes my way. If that means losing the first set and then coming back, fine… But obviously I would have loved to win it in two (sets)."

Sharapova, the former world number one who crashed out of Beijing in October in a third-round loss to China’s Peng Shuai, had arthroscopic surgery over a year ago on her right shoulder, and was out of action until May last year.

Zheng said she thought her aggressive style early on would help her best Sharapova.

"I think I have some chance (to win), but I need more belief, more confidence," she told reporters.

"I think too much. I should just go for it."

The Hong Kong tournament features four teams with three players each — representing Russia, Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific — in singles and mixed doubles play.

On Thursday, American champion Venus Williams is set to play Caroline Wozniacki, the teenaged Danish sensation ranked number four in the world, while retired star Michael Chang will play six-time Grand Slam winner Stefan Edberg.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, 25, easily overpowered Japanese newcomer Ayumi Morita, beating her 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour.

Despite warm support from the crowd, Morita, 19, billed as one of Asia’s rising stars, struggled with a weak service game and unforced errors in her match with the more experienced Zvonareva.