Sharapova Struggles to French Open victory

Sharapova
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By EDDIE PELLS, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — She gingerly flexed her right wrist, pulled on her ponytail in frustration, argued with the umpire and left the court with remnants of a big, orange blob of clay pasted to the back of her soaking shirt.

Yes, Maria Sharapova had to get down in the dirt for her latest French Open win, but her quest to complete the career Grand Slam is still alive.

After breezing through her first three matches, second-seeded Sharapova got stymied as much by her opponent as her own shaky play, to say nothing of the windy, damp conditions Monday at Roland Garros. She persevered in a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over 44th-ranked Klara Zakopalova in a match that took 3 hours, 11 minutes.

That was 16 minutes longer than her first three matches combined. The 13 games she lost against Zakopalova were eight more than Sharapova dropped against her first three opponents combined.

"It was a good test for me," Sharapova said. "I had chances to finish in two sets and didn't but I came out strong in the third set. I guess that's really what matters and it's nice to be in the quarters again."

While Sharapova advanced, defending champion Li Na, the No. 7 seed, disintegrated in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 loss to qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, a doubles specialist who matched her deepest trip into a Grand Slam.

It means the French Open will crown a first-time champion this year on the women's side; Li was the last former titlist left.

"I will find the 'why,'" Li said when asked what happened. "But not today. Otherwise, for sure, I win the match."

The headliner on the men's side was No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who beat No. 13 Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 and has lost only 19 games through four matches. Seeking his record seventh French Open title, Rafa needed only 1 hour, 46 minutes to dispatch Monaco on his way to the quarterfinals.

That was nearly 90 minutes less than Sharapova took for her decidedly different three-set win.

She had three chances to serve out the match. When she double-faulted to blow the third one, the crowd whistled — and not in a nice way. After changing ends, she broke Zakopalova — the 21st break of serve in a match that was wrapped up, somewhat fittingly, with a second serve that tumbled weakly into the net.

"She played very aggressive in the third set," Zakopalova said. "And she always puts me under pressure when I was serving my second serve."

Sharapova gave the crowd a friendly wave when it was over, but there was indifference and even a few hoots and boos as she walked off. She committed 53 unforced errors and stopped play a handful of times to bicker with the umpire, including during the second-set tiebreaker when she called a ball out, causing Zakopalova to stop playing, then lost the point after the umpire came down and pointed at the spot on the sideline where the ball had hit.

"Maybe that was the right call, but in the moment, it seemed like I was correct," Sharapova said.

She had already been bloodied — make that muddied — by that point. In the seventh game of the second set, she took an awkward step on the moist, wind-swept clay, tripped and landed flat on her back.

"My first fall of the clay season," she said. "That was the biggest shocker."

She ended up losing that set, then spent many of the breaks during the third set holding onto her right wrist. She said she jammed it, probably trying to return a body serve from Zakopalova.

"I don't know how many body serves she hit. That was probably the only one. That's why I was probably shocked," Sharapova said. "It's fine. Nothing to worry about."

Assuming the wrist is OK, Sharapova will head into the quarterfinals staring at draw that looks even better than when the day began.

With Li gone, the only other top-eight seed remaining was No. 4 Petra Kvitova, who had a match later Monday. Sharapova's next match will be against the winner of the fourth-round matchup between No. 23 Kaia Kanepi vs. 88th-ranked Arantxa Rus, which is the only match she cares about at this point.

Everything else, she said, are "just results. The people you've mentioned, those are not the matches I'm facing next."