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Sharapova beats the rain, Sugiyama

WIMBLEDON, England -- Maria Sharapova beat the rain and Ai Sugiyama.

With showers moving in at Wimbledon, Sharapova hurried to close out a victory Saturday over Sugiyama, 6-3, 6-3. The match was one of only two completed in singles before play was suspended until Monday.

Light rain fell in the final game, and Sharapova was serving at 40-15 when umpire Lynn Welch climbed down from her chair to check the condition of the grass. She ordered play to continue, despite protests from Sugiyama, and two points later Sharapova hit a forehand winner to advance to the fourth round.

"It's just a weird situation, because you know the rain is coming," said Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004. "You're just thinking you might be a match point up and you have to go and wait to finish the match. It's a little bit of a tense moment. ...

"I heard the weather is not supposed to be good for the rest of the day, so it was really good to finish."

The grounds crew pulled a tarp over the court as the players departed, and matches were suspended. Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo was the only other winner, beating Mara Santangelo 6-1, 6-2.

Seven singles matches were suspended in progress, and seven were postponed before they started.

Sugiyama complained that the grass was slippery in the final two games, and said rain became heavier before the final point.

"Of course it's not easy to stop right there," she said. "But at the same time I didn't want to give it away because, if it's not easy to run, it seems like giving up. ... I just thought it was too wet to play."

With Sharapova eager to finish, she hit a backhand at 40-15 that might have sealed the victory, but a linesman called the shot long. The umpire overruled and ordered the point replayed, and Sharapova glared at the linesman.

"It's the third call that the guy got wrong," she said. "You look at him and he's wearing sunglasses. He loses all credibility at that point."

Sharapova said the sore shoulder she has been nursing requires at least a couple of hours of treatment every day, so she was encouraged by improvement in her serving. Her top speed was 114 mph. She made 81 percent of her first serves, and lost only 13 service points.

"My serve worked really well," she said. "I had a great percentage of first serves. The average speed was higher than it has been in the last few months, which is great. It's definitely something that will help me going on from here."

Sharapova failed to convert her first seven break-point chances before hitting a forehand winner to break Sugiyama for a 3-2 lead. Sharapova held her next two service games at love and took the set when Sugiyama hit her only double-fault on set point.

Sharapova faltered briefly to start the second set. She fell behind 2-0, prompting angry screaming from her father and coach, Yuri. She broke back and held at love to take the lead for good at 4-3.

Sharapova finished with 30 winners to eight for Sugiyama.

Three-time champion Venus Williams, hoping to advance to a fourth-round match against Sharapova, led Akiko Morigami 6-2, 1-4 when their match was suspended. After a wait of almost three hours, play was postponed until Monday.

Action at the start of the day was delayed nearly four hours, with rain sending spectators clustering under umbrellas and crowding into souvenir shops. Five ducks -- a mother and four babies -- took up residence on court No. 5 until an animal care organization was summoned to transport them to a sanctuary south of London.

Mauresmo's wait to play was a lot longer than her match. She had 11 aces and only nine unforced errors to beat Santangelo in 57 minutes.

Mauresmo saved her best shot for the final game -- she ran beyond the sideline chasing a shot near the net and pulled a backhand cross-court off the shoetops for a winner. Two points later, Mauresmo hit an ace to close out the victory.

Seeded fourth, the Frenchwoman was pleased with the way she handled the delay before her match.

"You're in constant standby," she said. "You talk with your friends. You do things. But in one part of your mind, you know you can go. You're not completely relaxed. You still have to be ready to go on. And I thought I did that pretty well today."

Play has been interrupted by rain on five of the tournament's first six days. Wimbledon officials said the backlog of matches didn't require play on Sunday, traditionally an off day midway through the tournament.

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