Struggling Sharapova succumbs to curse of the cover star

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The Independent Online

As the world's highest-earning sportswoman Maria Sharapova is used to appearing on the front of magazines, but the Russian might have feared the worst when her photograph adorned the cover of yesterday's programme here at the French Open. For the 10th day in a row the featured player went out of the tournament as Sharapova was trounced 6-0, 6-2 by Dominika Cibulkova, who will now play Dinara Safina in the semi-finals.

It could have been worse. Cibulkova, a 20-year-old Slovakian, had a match point when leading 6-0 and 5-0. Sharapova, playing in only her second tournament following an absence of nearly 10 months with a shoulder injury, went on to save a total of four match points before Cibulkova secured a place in her first Grand Slam semi-final. "The pace wasn't there on my strokes and I was five steps slower today," Sharapova said afterwards. "But reflecting back on everything that I've been through in the last year, I think I can sit here and say I'm pretty proud of what I've achieved, not only in this tournament, but in that whole time. I've just got to keep working and keep my head up."

Safina had dropped only five games in her first four matches here, but was pushed all the way by Victoria Azarenka, the world No 9, before winning her quarter-final 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. Azarenka, a 19-year-old from Belarus who has won three tournaments this year, took the first set in 23 minutes, but Safina is the most dogged of competitors and fought her way back. Although Azarenka recovered from an early break in the second set to level at 4-4, Safina took control from that point.

"For me the match is never over," the world No 1 said, "but I hope from the next match that I will start to dominate from the first point."