Maria Sharapova kept her hopes of retaining the French Open title alive with a 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals yesterday despite a hail of unforced errors.
Sharapova had entered the contest with a 7-1 win-loss record over her old sparring partner from the Bollettieri Academy but no-one would have guessed following her first-set meltdown.
With the Russian’s backhand misfiring, forehand malfunctioning and serve stuck in first gear, Sharapova gave Jankovic free reign to do as she pleased.
The Serbian former world No 1 blasted winners with her “money-shot” backhand “that pays my bills” and then drew loud cheers for sliding into the splits as she chased down the ball.Jankovic wrapped up the first set after yet another sloppy forehand by Sharapova, which took the No 2 seed’s unforced errors count to 20.
“You have to erase the chapter and move forward. No matter how bad I was playing or how well my opponent was playing, I still felt I was in the match,” a relieved Sharapova said in courtside interview. “I was so fortunate to hold the trophy last year and I’m so happy to be back in the semi-finals.”
Jankovic, rather than pressing home her advantage in front of a group of flag-waving Serbian male fans who serenaded the 18th seed throughout the match by chanting her name, paid a huge price for what at the time seemed like an innocuous mistake.
A slight misjudgement by Jankovic in the opening game of the second set, when she opted to hit the ball at Sharapova rather than go for an outright winner, threw the Serbian off course and she went on to drop her serve and the set. That left Jankovic to resort to her usual habit of muttering away to herself as Sharapova kept her focus to break in the seventh game of the third.
A forehand into the tramlines from Jankovic handed Sharapova a place in the semi-finals for the third year running and a date with third-seeded Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka who beat Russian Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.