Maria Sharapova has been knocked out of the French Open by Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova.
Safarova, seeded 13th at Roland Garros this year, defeated the world No. 2, 7-6(7-3) 6-4 to advance into the last 8 of the clay-court Major for the first time in her career.
Sharapova had aimed to become the first woman since Justine Henin (2005, 2006 and 2007) to successful defend the singles title, but failed to take her chances in the game which lasted for one hour and 49 minutes in Court Philippe-Chatrier.
On the other end Safarova, 28, pressured and pounced on the slightest of openings and, even broke the two-time winner first in either sets.
Sharapova’s best moments came midway through the opening set when she immediately broke back to level 3-3 (1-1 on breaks) and claimed her next three games, but- despite leveling 40-all in Game 12- allowed Safarova to save set point and force a first set tie-break.
The 2014 Wimbledon semi-finalist raced into a 6-1 lead in the tie-break when’s she produced an acute angle winner from a Sharapova drop shot and then sealed the set on her third asking.
If Sharapova had offered a glimpse of her resilient clay-court demeanour in the one-hour long first set, the champ only huffed and puffed in the second, with Safarova breaking serve and then consolidating for a 3-0 lead.
She fought back into the contest, smashing a forehand winner and an ace in the 4th and 6th games either end of a Safarova double fault to level at 3-all.
But that was as far as the journey lasted for the ex-world No. 1 as Safarova reeled off three of the next four games to claim her first victory over Sharapova since 2010- a feat expected to help her inside the world’s top 10 for the first time.
“I’m still a competitor no matter what,” she said, having been quizzed on the effect of illness on her performance.
“I’m going to do everything in order to go out and give it my best, and I think I did the best I could. Today it wasn’t enough, because my opponent had a different gear than I did. But I was still there and I still competed.”
She added: “I felt like I had small openings, and played a good few points. I just wasn’t able to keep that level up today. She was able to do that for a longer period of time. She was the much more aggressive player. She took the time away from me, created her angles and I didn’t.
“That was the difference today, in my opinion.”
Up next for Safarova is Spaniard Garbine Muguruza (seeded 21)m who accounted for 28th seed Italian Flavio Panneta 6-3 6-4.