A year ago at this time, Maria Sharapova was sitting out the U.S. Open, getting checked by doctors and having tests on the surgically repaired right shoulder that has troubled her off and on.
On Wednesday, Sharapova found herself down by a set and facing a break point early in the second at Flushing Meadows, bothered by the whipping wind, her own off-target strokes and an opponent who wasn't backing down.
As dusk fell and the Arthur Ashe Stadium lights came on, Sharapova came through the way she so often does in the crucible of a third set, beating 95th-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round of the Grand Slam tournament she won in 2006 but has missed twice in the past six years.
Sharapova won in part because of her big shots, yes, but also because she had more in the tank when it mattered.
"It's really good to get through," said Sharapova, who faces 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki next. "Put yourself in a really tough position, but then you're able to find a way to get back and finish really strong."
She managed to do that on a day that was not easy for some other seeded women in the second round, although No. 19 Venus Williams, the 2000-01 champion in New York, advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over 78th-ranked Timea Bacsinszky.
No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, a finalist at Wimbledon two years ago, became the first man or woman seeded in the top 10 to lose, defeated 6-3, 6-4 by 39th-ranked Peng Shuai of China. And No. 21 Sloane Stephens of the United States had her earliest exit at the U.S. Open, eliminated 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 by 96th-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden.