Evgeniya Rodina and Maria Sharapova live in different worlds, geographically and socially, and before meeting in the first round of the French Open here yesterday the two Russians had never spoken to one another. Rodina, who lives in Moscow, has earned a total of $120,000 (about £60,000) in prize-money, which is less than one hundredth of what her Florida-based opponent has banked.
On the basis of their match you would never have guessed at the gulf, which is also reflected in their rankings. Sharapova, the new world No 1 following Justine Henin's retirement, won 6-1, 3-6, 8-6, but Rodina, the No 104, came within two points of pulling off the most stunning result of the year in her first appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament.
At 19 Rodina is only two years younger than Sharapova, but her chubby features looked like puppy fat and when she sat behind the microphones before her post-match press conference she looked like a nervous schoolgirl. Appearances were deceptive, however, for out on court she played with unbridled confidence and regularly had Sharapova in trouble with her crisp down-the-line backhands and forehands.
Sharapova took command of the first set, but a combination of her own mistakes and her opponent's bold play let Rodina back into the match. By the end Sharapova had made 51 unforced errors compared with Rodina's 23, but the most telling statistic was the Australian Open champion's 17 double faults. In the fifth game of the second set she double-faulted three times in a row.
There was no return of the rain which had disrupted the previous two days' play, but a swirling wind made life difficult. "Apart from eating and breathing the sand, it was great," Sharapova said. "The conditions were bad for me, they were bad for her and they were bad for everybody else playing."
Sharapova, who needs the French Open title to complete her Grand Slam collection, was not happy with her footwork and blamed the wind and her ball toss for the problems on her serve. "I had problems in every department of my game today, so I'll have to improve on every aspect of those things," she said.
Having struggled to hold her serve in the final set, Sharapova made her 16th double fault at 4-5 and 30-15 to go within two points of defeat. However, there is no player in the women's game who can match Sharapova's steeliness under pressure and two service winners averted the crisis. Three games later two Rodina errors handed Sharapova a break of serve and she served out to secure victory in two hours and 28 minutes.
Ana Ivanovic, the world No 2, needed less than an hour to beat Lucie Safarova 6-1, 6-2, but Marion Bartoli, the No 9, was beaten 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 by Casey Dellacqua, who reached the fourth round of her home Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open in January.
Bartoli, who has not won more than two games in a row all year, said: "I'm fed up. I'm going to turn off my mobile phone, turn off my TV set, forget about Roland Garros. I'm going to try not to think about it. I'll go far away, very far away." Last year's Wimbledon finalist said she felt too tired to start her preparations for the grass court season. "I've been playing since the beginning of the year and I felt very tired. I probably will start practising for the season on grass, but I first want to think about myself."
Rafael Nadal, the defending men's champion, made heavy weather of beating Italy's Thomaz Bellucci, winning 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 after two hours and 34 minutes. Novak Djokovic, the world No 3, had no such problems against Miguel Angel Lopez Jaen, a Spanish qualifier, and won 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 to become the first man to book his place in the third round.
Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 champion, retired with leg pains while leading Brazil's Marcos Daniel, but Lleyton Hewitt, a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 winner over France's Nicolas Mahut, reported no problems with the hip injury that kept him out of all the clay court warm-up tournaments.