Sharapova struggles to French Open victory

PARIS — She gingerly flexed her right wrist, pulled on her ponytail in frustration, argued with the umpire and left the court with remnants of a big, orange blob of clay pasted to the back of her soaking shirt.

Yes, Maria Sharapova had to get down in the dirt for her latest French Open win, but her quest to complete the career Grand Slam is still alive.

After breezing through her first three matches, second-seeded Sharapova got pushed as much by her opponent as her own shaky play, to say nothing of the windy, damp conditions Monday at Roland Garros. She persevered in a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over 44th-ranked 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 against her first three opponents 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.

Across the way in Court Suzanne Lenglen, defending champion Li Na, the No. 7 seed, disintegrated in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 loss to qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, a doubles specialist who matched her deepest trip into a Grand Slam. The only other top-eight seed remaining was No. 4 Petra Kvitova, who had a match later Monday. Sharapova’s next match will be against the winner of No. 23 Kaia Kanepi vs. 88th-ranked Arantxa Rus.

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