Sharapova loses at French, barely avoids shutout
AP Tennis Writer
PARIS (AP) ” The final score of Maria Sharapova’s stunning loss in the French Open quarterfinals Tuesday did not look quite as embarrassing as it nearly did: Her opponent led 6-0, 5-0.
That Sharapova saved a match point in the 12th game and wound up delaying her defeat for 15 minutes was of no consolation, of course. All that mattered was that her bid to complete a career Grand Slam this year ended when she was beaten 6-0, 6-2 by 20th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova.
“I don’t really care about numbers. It’s either a ‘W’ or an ‘L,”‘ Sharapova said, “and I prefer ‘W.”‘
All of that time on court at the French Open, and all of that time away before it, finally caught up to her, resulting in her most lopsided loss at a major tournament.
“You can only ask your body to do so much,” said Sharapova, who had right shoulder surgery in October and had played four three-set matches at Roland Garros in her first major tournament in nearly a year. “Everything fell a little short today. The pace wasn’t there on my strokes, and, you know, I was five steps slower.”
Her absence from the tour dropped her ranking outside the top 100. Still, as a former No. 1 and a three-time major champion, Sharapova was expected to beat Cibulkova, a 20-year-old Slovak who was making her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut and whose chief financial backer is not a shoe company or a racket manufacturer but, instead, a friend of her coach from back home in Bratislava.
Now the 5-foot-3 Cibulkova ” 11 inches shorter than Sharapova ” faces the current No. 1, Dinara Safina, who overcame a shaky start to defeat No. 9 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“I’m not really happy with my game today,” Safina said.
One might have thought Cibulkova would feel exactly the opposite about her own performance, but neither she nor her coach, Vladimir Platenik, thought she played perfectly. “Regular,” was the word Platenik used when they huddled in the hallway outside the locker room at Court Suzanne Lenglen.
“I told you!” Platenik said. “I told you if you played regular, you could do it!”
Indeed, stranger things have happened at this tournament, not least was Robin Soderling’s fourth-round upset of four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal. No one, save perhaps Soderling, thought he would stop Nadal’s 31-match winning streak in Paris, and given that accomplishment, there should be no doubting how far the Swede can go.
The 23rd-seeded Soderling stretched his career-best winning streak to eight matches by easily handling two-time French Open semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. Never before a Grand Slam semifinalist ” or quarterfinalist or even fourth-round participant ” Soderling will be a French Open finalist if he can beat No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.
“I always knew that I could play really, really good tennis,” Soderling said.
Gonzalez, the 2007 Australian Open runner-up, reached his first semifinal at Roland Garros with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 victory over No. 3 Andy Murray.
Was Gonzalez surprised to have taken a set 6-0 from Murray?
“Playing Andy? I would have never dreamed it,” Gonzalez said, “even playing table tennis.”
Cibulkova had similar thoughts about Sharapova, and it showed at the end.
Far less experienced in these settings, Cibulkova was steady throughout. She made only one unforced error in the first set and nine overall, 18 fewer than Sharapova. Cibulkova broke Sharapova’s serve in the first game and ” with the help of two double-faults ” again in the third, and suddenly a pattern was established.
When Sharapova was late for a backhand and tried hitting the ball lefty, only to sail the shot wide, Cibulkova had won 11 of 11 games and would serve for the match. She got within a point of ending things, right then and there, when it hit her.
“I realized, like, ‘What is happening? 6-0, 5-0 ” it’s too much, I think, against Maria,”‘ she said. “That’s why maybe I missed the first match point.”
She pushed a forehand long there to start a run of eight consecutive points for Sharapova, which allowed the Russian to break to 5-1 and hold for 5-2. Serving for the match a second time, Cibulkova saw three more match points go to waste: Sharapova would not go quietly, her strokes gaining their customary sting and her trademark shrieks rising in pitch and volume.
But on match point No. 5, Sharapova dumped a forehand into the net, and Cibulkova dropped her racket and fell on her back, leaving a rusty splotch on her white top.
“She made me hit a lot of balls. She was very solid. She did the right things, I mean, in order to win,” Sharapova said. “She won. I guess that’s what only matters in the end.”
To Sharapova, maybe. To Cibulkova, every detail of the biggest victory of her career mattered.
Beaming afterward, Cibulkova wanted to hear Platenik describe what had just happened.
“How many match points did I have?” she asked her coach. “How many? Tell me!”