Sharapova forced to dig deep to see off Zakopalova

MARIA Sharapova’s hopes of a first French Open title are still alive despite a three-hour tussle with Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round, but defending champion Li Na is out.

There were a remarkable 21 breaks of serve in Sharapova’s 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 victory, which was played in cold and windy conditions on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The Russian had breezed through the first three rounds, losing only five games, but Zakopalova was a resilient opponent and she forced Sharapova to battle for three hours and 11 minutes. The second seed served for the match twice in the second set but it was somehow inevitable she would be broken, while there also an inevitability about the double fault that decided matters – the 19th of the match.

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Sharapova said of her struggles: “It was a combination of everything. My opponent played extremely well, the best that she’s played against me. The conditions were difficult, so it was a good test for me.”

Sharapova was also feeling her wrist in the third set, but she is confident it will not be an ongoing problem, saying: “I guess I jammed it. But it should be fine. It’s nothing to worry about.”

Ironically, Sharapova’s status as favourite strengthened with the exit of Li, who lost 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 to world No 142 Yaroslava Shvedova. The Kazakh qualifier was a quarter-finalist here in 2010, which helped her climb inside the top 30, but a knee injury and poor form last year saw her fall as low as 257 in the world. Shvedova credited coach Emiliano Redondi for helping turn her form around. She said: “In September I got a new coach and he has helped me out a lot.”

In the last eight Shvedova will play Wimbledon champion and fourth seed Petra Kvitova, who ended the run of American Varvara Lepchenko in emphatic fashion, winning 6-2, 6-1.

Sharapova, meanwhile, will play powerful 23rd seed Kaia Kanepi, who saw off unseeded Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.