Sharapova shifts up a gear to reach third round

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova shifted into a higher gear Wednesday as she overwhelmed unseeded Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus with the loss of just two games to surge into the third round of the U.S. Open.

Sharapova, who battled through a tough three-setter against Briton Heather Watson in her opening match, was sharper with her groundstrokes and steadier with her serve in the 70-minute 6-1 6-1 rout.

The third-seeded Russian and 2006 champion hit 35 fewer unforced errors than in her wayward first round, while winning points on 14 of 16 forays to the net.

Next up for Sharapova will be 26th seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy, a straight-sets winner over compatriot Romina Oprandi.

"I think I improved my intensity a lot," Sharapova, 24, a three-time grand slam winner said. "I was moving a lot better, just hitting a lot freer.

"Overall I did many things much better than the previous round. I really had to. I didn't play my best tennis, but I gave myself a chance to play another match and improve. I did a good job with that."

As the closing match of the Day Three program, Sharapova did not take the court until after the first night contest, won by American Andy Roddick in three hours.

World number four Sharapova made quick work of her task but still did not finish until after midnight and looked sleepy when she finally faced reporters.

"I mean at 10:30 I'm under the covers; at 11:00 I'm out," she said about her usual off-court routine. "I don't think I'd watch anything at midnight.

"But when you're in the moment, when you start the match, I'm not thinking what time it is or I want to get off the court as soon as I can. When you're out there, it's just about doing whatever you can to win the match."

(Editing by Ossian Shine)