Do not try talking to Maria Sharapova about the joys of Paris in the spring. Not only did the 21-year-old Russian suffer a bruising 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 defeat by Dinara Safina and the probable loss of her world No 1 ranking here yesterday but she also left Court Suzanne Lenglen to the sound of boos and jeers.
The crowd at Roland Garros are never reluctant to make their feelings known, even if the reasons for their sympathies are sometimes less than clear. They do not like what they see as arrogance or bad sportsmanship, but on occasions just being rich, beautiful, successful and American – or sounding like one – can be enough to earn their contempt. They must have thought the former Wimbledon champion fitted the bill on most counts.
Sharapova's shrieking appeared not to endear her to the spectators, who also whistled their disapproval if she queried a line call. At the end she left in a hurry and without acknowledging the crowd, which also seemed to contribute to their displeasure.
Twelve months ago the same court had given her a similarly hard time. On that occasion Sharapova said that it was "tough playing tennis and being Mother Theresa at the same time" after she was booed following a win over Patty Schnyder, having changed rackets in the middle of a game and aced the Swiss when she was holding up her hand to indicate she was not ready.
"I can't please everyone," Sharapova said last night. "It's not in my job description. I'm an athlete. I go out there and I fight my heart out. They paid for their tickets to watch me, so they must appreciate me on some level."
It would be wrong, nevertheless, to suggest that matters off court had anything to do with Sharapova's performance. No player can match her ability to block out a crowd's disapproval and this was a defeat waiting to happen given her patchy form in the previous three rounds. If Sharapova's erratic serve held up reasonably well on this occasion, other parts of her game were in pieces. Never the best mover on clay, she was frequently caught out by the weight of Safina's shots, while her own ground strokes were never reliable.
Safina, who probably benefited from her brother Marat's popularity here, had won two of her previous three matches against Sharapova and won a title on clay in Berlin last month.
The world No 14, who now plays another fellow Russian, Elena Dementieva, might have won the first set. Her frustration was evident when she hurled her racket to the floor after putting a poor backhand in the net on set point. But she showed commendable resilience in fighting back from 5-2 down in the second set and saving a match point at 5-3. Sharapova led 5-2 in the second tie-break, only to lose five points in a row, and from 2-2 in the third set she folded.
Sharapova's return to No 1 after Justine Henin's retirement last month is likely to be short-lived. Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic or Svetlana Kuznetsova could replace her next week. "Boo-hoo," Sharapova said, sarcastically. "Believe me, when I first got off the court it wasn't the first thing that was on my mind."
Sharapova is scheduled to compete next week at Edgbaston, where she usually hones her grass-court game before Wimbledon, but, she said: "Maybe I need a bit more rest. I might go home for a little bit."
Another world No 1 kitted out in chic navy blue fared better over on Court Philippe Chatrier. Roger Federer beat Julien Benneteau 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 and now plays Fernando Gonzalez, who beat Robby Ginepri of the United States. Gaël Monfils kept home interest alive when he overcame Ivan Ljubicic to earn a quarter-final against David Ferrer, a five-set winner over Radek Stepanek.
Britain's Jamie Murray and his American partner, Liezel Huber, are through to the last eight of the mixed doubles, having been awarded a walk-over when the fifth seeds, Yan Zi and Mark Knowles, withdrew. Ross Hutchins, the last Briton in the men's doubles, and his Australian partner, Stephen Huss, lost in three sets to Russia's Igor Kunitsyn and Dmitry Tursunov.
Quarter-finals: Men: R Federer v F Gonzalez; G Monfils v D Ferrer; E Gulbis v N Djokovic; N Almagro v R Nadal.
Women: D Safina v E Dementieva; S Kuznetsova or V Azarenka v K Kanepi or P Kvitova; C Suarez Navarro v J Jankovic; P Schnyder v A Ivanovic.