Locked in a three-set, 3-hour struggle at a wet and windy French Open on Monday, Sharapova's right, racket-swinging wrist was aching — and that, she insisted, was the least of her problems.
There was the tumble to her backside that Sharapova could laugh about later. The exasperating line calls, and what the second-seeded Russian considered an obstinate chair umpire. The 12 double-faults, plus 41 other errors of Sharapova's own doing. The nine breaks she allowed, including three while serving for the match. The unseeded foe who wouldn't go away.
"It was," Sharapova summed up, "a good test for me."
Certainly the first she's faced at Roland Garros this year. After dropping a total of five games in three matches that averaged less than an hour each, Sharapova moved into the quarterfinals at the only Grand Slam tournament she hasn't won by dispensing with tactics and swinging away until she finally pulled out a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over 44th-ranked Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic.
"I'm useless with game plans. That's probably the one thing (coach Thomas Hogstedt) just gets so frustrated with me about," Sharapova said. "I go out there and I do my own thing, and then he's like, after the match, 'Really? What's the point? I mean, what's the point of having me?' But I apologized when I hired him, in advance, so he's OK."
"It's good we have a day off tomorrow so we can step it up again," he said. "This was clearly a match where she was not playing as well as she should."
Sharapova and Hogstedt both said her wrist, which she repeatedly flexed during the match and fiddled with at her news conference afterward, shouldn't be an issue. Something else that might not be? The opposition. It seems that nearly every day a potential roadblock is swept out of the draw, from Serena Williams, to Francesca Schiavone, to Li Na.
Indeed, Sharapova now has one thing in common with every woman left: None has won the French Open.
Her next opponent, No. 23 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, hasn't been beyond the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament but got to that round for the fourth time by defeating unseeded Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.
Asked whether she thinks she can beat three-time major champion Sharapova, Kanepi replied: "If I play well, of course. Why not?"
Kanepi didn't indicate whether that was based on having seen Sharapova's error-strewn performance against Zakopalova on an afternoon when the temperature dipped into the 50s and the occasional drizzle fell. Sharapova said she jammed her wrist on a service return "but it should be fine. ... Nothing to worry about."
As for her second-set stumble, Sharapova chuckled and said: "That was my first fall of the clay season, which is the biggest shocker. I usually have a few before the French Open."
She was less amused by the work of chair umpire Julie Kjendlie of Norway, engaging in a couple of extended arguments about rulings.
"The first one was the most questionable one, I guess, because she couldn't find the mark. ... What do you say to that? You can't find the mark? I mean, it was like, 'Well, isn't that your job?'... I mean, we're on clay courts. Usually when there is no mark, it means it's on the line," Sharapova said. "She had an answer for everything out there."
Defending champion Li's surprising exit came against Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, an eyeglasses-wearing doubles specialist ranked 142nd in singles who needed to go through qualifying rounds to enter the main draw.
"I have to find the reason why I lose the match," said Li, China's only Grand Slam singles champion. "I will find out. But not today."
Shvedova dropped to her knees after taking the last 10 games to eliminate the seventh-seeded Li 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 and become the ninth qualifier to reach the French Open quarterfinals. She'd be the first to make it to the semifinals if she beats Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who ended the career-best run of unseeded American Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 6-1.
"Even if some thoughts come to my head, I will try to put them away and focus on what I need to do," said Shvedova, who won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open with Vania King of the U.S. in 2010.
There are no heartwarming, out-of-nowhere stories like hers among the remaining men. It's the first Grand Slam tournament since the 1984 French Open with all top six seeded men in the quarterfinals.
Rafael Nadal's pursuit of a record seventh French Open title rolled on with another rout, this one a 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 victory over his pal, Juan Monaco of Argentina, who's not exactly a slouch — he was seeded 13th and has won five clay-court titles.
But Nadal is 49-1 for his career at the French Open and might be better than ever. He's lost a total of 19 games so far, the fewest through four completed matches at Roland Garros since Guillermo Vilas' 16 games in 1982.
"I feel really comfortable, really at ease," Nadal said. "When the tournament is over, I'll tell you if this was my best Roland Garros or not. For the time being, I'm still playing. So far, so good. But we'll see. Things could change."
He'll take a 7-0 head-to-head record into an all-Spanish quarterfinal against No. 12 Nicolas Almagro, who beat No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
When three-time major finalist Andy Murray walked on court, he was booed by a partisan crowd pulling for France's Richard Gasquet. Murray ignored a poor start, a still-bothersome back and more taunting and teasing from fans to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Next for Murray is a quarterfinal against No. 6 David Ferrer, who overwhelmed No. 20 Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.
In two matches halted in progress Sunday night by darkness, No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga finished off No. 18 Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, while No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro defeated No. 7 Tomas Berdych 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Aiming to be France's first male champion at a Grand Slam tournament since Yannick Noah in Paris in 1983, Tsonga now plays No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Tuesday in a rematch of the 2008 Australian Open final. Del Potro set up a rematch of the 2009 U.S. Open final he won against 16-time major champion Roger Federer.
Del Potro is 2-11 overall against Federer, including a loss in the 2009 semifinals at Roland Garros, and was asked the key to winning this time.
"Play an unbelievable match. Try to take my opportunities. Serve 100 per cent. Trying to play winners with my forehand, with my backhand, and (force) him to raise his game," del Potro explained, then went on a little longer, capping the list with "unbelievable shots."
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