PARIS – 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.
Strange 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.”