Li's shock defeat clears the way for Sharapova

 

You would no doubt have got long odds on a French Open quarter-final line-up featuring Yaroslava Shvedova, Dominika Cibulkova, Sara Errani and Kaia Kanepi, but the cull of the big names in the women's tournament continued yesterday. Li Na, the defending champion and the only former winner left in the draw, was the latest to fall, beaten 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 by Shvedova, a qualifier from Kazakhstan who is ranked No 142 in the world.

Li, who became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title with her triumph here last year, appeared to be comfortably in control in the first set but lost 12 of the last 14 games.

"I just tried to play the ball back into the court, but I couldn't," Li said after a match in which she made 41 unforced errors. "Right now, I want to totally relax the mind and body. I need some time to recover. I'm not a machine."

The bespectacled Shvedova, who was a top-30 singles player two years ago, has enjoyed more success in doubles. She is ranked No 5 in the world in doubles and has won two Grand Slam doubles titles. The boldness of the 24-year-old's play appeared to shake Li, whose mistakes multiplied as the match wore on.

"I think it's the most incredible win for me," Shvedova said afterwards. "I always have nice matches against top players because it's easier, because I have no pressure."

Li's defeat leaves Maria Sharapova as the favourite for the title, though you would not have guessed that from the Russian's performance against Klara Zakopalova. The match, which lasted three hours and 11 minutes, featured 101 unforced errors and a remarkable 21 breaks of serve before Sharapova won 6-4, 6-7, 6-2. It could not have finished in more appropriate fashion, with Zakopalova serving a double-fault on the final point.

Zakopalova is one of the tour's journeywomen. The 30-year-old Czech is the world No 44 and has never been higher than No 27 in the rankings. She won the last of her two titles seven years ago and has gone out in the first round in 23 of her 34 appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

Sharapova, who dropped only five games in her first three matches, served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set, but was having problems with her right wrist and went on to lose the tie-break when Zakopalova converted her third set point. However, the world No 2 quickly took control of the decider.

"I thought my opponent played extremely well, the best that she's played against me," Sharapova said. "She's dangerous. She can play well. She's had very good wins, so she's confident. On top of that, when she hits the ball, I think some days she goes out there and goes for it, and it seems like everything just goes in and stays so low over the net."

The Russian, who now plays Kanepi, will replace Victoria Azarenka as world No 1 if she wins the title, but could face a major test in the semi-finals against Petra Kvitova, although the Wimbledon champion has to find a way past Shvedova to make the last four. Kvitova moved smoothly into the quarter-finals by beating Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 6-1 in just 63 minutes.

FRENCH OPEN RESULTS

 

Roland Garros, Paris: Women's Singles Fourth round: Y Shvedova (Kaz) bt (7) N Li (Chin) 3-6 6-2 6-0; (4) P Kvitova (Cz Rep) bt V Lepchenko (US) 6-2 6-1; (23) K Kanepi (Est) bt A Rus (Neth) 6-1 4-6 6-0; (2) M Sharapova (Rus) bt K Zakopalova (Cz Rep) 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-2.

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