MASON, Ohio — Maria Sharapova's return to WTA tournament play after more than a month away was short-lived following an upset loss to 17th-ranked American Sloane Stephens 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the second round of the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.
In a match that lasted two hours and 22 minutes, Stephens overcame double faults on two match points to pick up her first victory over Sharapova in four meetings.
"No one beats me four times in a row, so I had to win tonight," Stephens told a television interviewer after the match.
Sharapova, the 2011 W&S champion and a 2010 finalist, showed no traces of the hip injury that had kept her sidelined since a second-round loss at Wimbledon.
Jimmy Connors, who won the tournament 41 years ago, watched from the stands in his first match as Sharapova's coach. She hired Connors, the 1972 champion and a 1986 finalist, in mid-July.
In earlier action, second-ranked Victoria Azarenka held off an upset bid by qualifier Vania King to pull out a 6-1, 7-6 (6) win and advance to the third round. Azarenka rallied from a 3-0 hole in the second set to force the tiebreaker against the 140th-ranked American.
Azarenka, who has been bothered by a lower back injury, won her first match since losing to Samantha Stosur in the finals of the Southern California Open two weeks ago.
"I think the beginning of the second set wasn't very good for me," Azarenka said. "There were quite a few unforced errors and just really fast mistakes, which didn't happen in the first set."
John Isner defeated Florian Mayer, 6-3, 6-4, and Grigor Dimitrov defeated Brian Baker, 6-3, 6-2. Third-seeded David Ferrer edged 102nd-ranked American Ryan Harrison, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4.
Varvara Lepchenko of the United States advanced with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over Flavia Pennetta, and Jamie Hampton needed three sets to overcome Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Alize Cornet rallied past Ana Ivanovic 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Sorana Cirstea, the 21st-ranked Romanian who lost to No. 1 Serena Williams in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday, withdrew from her first-round match against Yanina Wickmayer.
Cirstea was replaced by No. 43 Monica Niculescu, who lost in this past weekend's qualifying but stayed around in case a spot opened up in the singles main draw and to play doubles. The Romanian capitalized on her second chance with a 6-1, 6-2 win over the 58th-ranked Wickmayer.
No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki easily advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Shuai Peng.
Gilles Simon was forced to retire because of a strained hip against Vasek Pospisil, who was leading 6-3, 1-1.