Defending champion Li Na of China crashed out of the French Open on Monday while Maria Sharapova overcame a catalogue of errors on a bitterly cold day in Paris to struggle into the quarterfinals for the sixth time.
Li, who was Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion when she took the 2011 title, lost her crown at the fourth round stage, going down 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 to Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova, ranked 142.
World No 7 Li was attempting to be the first French Open women’s champion to successfully defend the title since Justine Henin in 2007.
But after a confident start on Suzanne Lenglen court, the 30-year-old endured a spectacular meltdown in the second set and never recovered, notching 41 errors and ending up being broken seven times by her 24-year-old opponent.
“I lost one match so don’t try to put me down,” Li, who hasn’t won a title since her Paris victory, snapped at a tense post-match news conference. “This is tennis. I will try to find the reason why I lost.”
Shvedova, who was also a quarter-finalist in 2010, had to come through qualifying after an injury-hit 2011 saw her ranking plummet at one stage to 206.
Topsy turvy contest
After breezing through her first three matches, second-seeded Sharapova persevered to a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over Klara Zakopalova in a match that took 3 hours, 11 minutes.
That was 16 minutes longer than her first three matches combined. The 13 games she lost against Zakopalova were eight more than Sharapova dropped in her first three matches combined. She had three chances to serve out the match. When she double-faulted to blow the third one, the crowd whistled - and not in a nice way. After changing ends, she broke Zakopalova - the 21st break of serve in a match that was wrapped up, somewhat fittingly, with a second serve that tumbled weakly into the net.
Sharapova gave the crowd a nice wave when it was over, but there was indifference and even a few hoots and boos as she walked off. She committed 53 unforced errors and stopped play no fewer than four times to bicker with the umpire, including during the second-set tiebreaker when she called a ball out, causing Zakopalova to stop playing, then lost the point after the umpire came down and pointed at the spot on the sideline where the ball had hit.
Sharapova had already been bloodied - or, make that muddied - by then. In the seventh game of the second set, she took an awkward step on the moist, wind-swept clay, tripped and landed flat on her back. She ended up losing that set, then spent many of the breaks during the third set holding onto her right wrist.
Yet when it was over, she was in better shape than before it began, at least as far as the draw was concerned.