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French crowd roots for Maria

sports Updated: May 31, 2009 00:10 IST

AFP
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Dealing with adversity has brought Maria Sharapova a new fan base in Paris, the Russian glamour girl believes.

The former World No 1 has gone the distance in the three matches she has played to date at this year's French Open coming from behind with defeat staring her in the face on each occasion to reach the last 16.

And that in just her second tournament back after a 10-month injury layoff to deal with an injury to her right shoulder that was casting a dark cloud over the rest of her career.

It has revealed another side to a once dominant player much admired for her looks and star appeal and respected for her all-action style, but seldom a sentimental favourite.

Asked if she had noticed a change in the way the Roland Garros faithful had got behind her this year the 22-year-old Sharapova replied: "Yeah, probably because you're ranked outside the top 100, so people like you.

"When you're No. 1 in the world, for some reason they don't like you anymore. It's amazing how the society works.

"Especially here in France, I think they always love the underdog, and they always love the one that comes back from behind, or the one that's not expected to win. I'm probably that person."

Sharapova admits that the 10 months she sat on the sidelines have given her a new perspective on life allowing her to enjoy new experiences and take some time away from the spotlight.

But she says that the time was ripe for her return to competition and she is determined to make the most out of it no matter how it goes.

"I'm full of surprises. I surprise myself on a daily basis," she said.

"I'll tell you, just when you think you've seen everything, I manage to just shock everyone. Just ask a member of my team.

"I think coming into Warsaw and coming into this tournament, it's all really a test and it still is a test."

Next test for Sharapova on Sunday will be China's Li Na, herself the victim of a career-threatening injury to her right knee.

The two have played four times with Sharapova winning in straight sets each time. But it will be the first time that the two have played on clay and the first since the 2006 US Open.

The prize for the winner will be a quarter-final spot and every chance of reaching the last four.