- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

PARIS (AP) | One point from the quarterfinals, a shrieking Maria Sharapova again came up short at the French Open.

Bidding for the only Grand Slam title she has yet to win, the top-ranked Sharapova twice blew big leads in the second set yesterday and lost to fellow Russian Dinara Safina 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Sharapova’s customary screeches reached maximum volume as the match slipped away, and the noise seemed to annoy fans. They whistled and booed Sharapova as she left Court Suzanne Lenglen after the match, and she didn’t acknowledge the crowd.

“I can’t please everyone,” she said. “It’s not in my job description. I’m an athlete, and I go out there and fight my heart out. They paid the ticket to watch me, so they must appreciate me on some level, right?”

Sharapova won five consecutive games in the second set to go ahead 5-2 and held a match point serving in the next game. She also led 5-2 in the second tiebreaker before losing five consecutive points, then unraveled down the stretch, losing the final four games and 10 of the last 12 points.

It was the latest setback for Sharapova on clay, her least-favorite surface.

“On this stuff, things happen in a hurry,” Sharapova said.

Said Safina: “It was all in her hands. Then suddenly it changed.”

Faring better was Roger Federer, another top-ranked player seeking his first French Open title. He reached the quarterfinals by beating Julien Benneteau of France 6-4, 7-5, 7-5.

“I hope it’s going to go my way this time,” Federer said. “All in all, I’m very happy with the way I’m playing.”

Federer’s opponent tomorrow will be No. 24 Fernando Gonzalez, who ended American Robby Ginepri’s surprising run at Roland Garros 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-1. Ginepri was the last American in either singles draw.

No. 5 David Ferrer improved to 8-1 in five-set matches by beating No. 21 Radek Stepanek 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Ferrer next plays unseeded Frenchman Gael Monfils, who defeated No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Safina, the younger sister of two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin, duplicated her upset of Sharapova in the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2006. She received a congratulatory text from her brother and said she hopes to join him as the winner of a major title.

“A dream of all our family,” she said. “Once we do this, we can put the racket on the wall and say we did everything we could. But to get to his level, I still have to work a little bit harder.”

The 13th-seeded Safina’s next opponent will be No. 7 Elena Dementieva, who won another all-Russian matchup against No. 11 Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 1-6, 6-2.

Trailing Sharapova 5-3 in the second set, Safina saved match point with a backhand winner, then broke two points later when Sharapova pushed a forehand wide. In the second tiebreaker, Sharapova double-faulted for 5-4 and then hit three errant backhands.

That evened the match, but the momentum favored Safina. Sharapova’s customary squeals during rallies became more intense during the sixth game of the final set, and she screamed at herself after points.

“Just trying to pump myself up,” she said. “I was trying to get angry about something. I just started playing tentatively.”

Ginepri hung with Gonzalez until losing serve twice in a row late in the second set. Ginepri’s consolation: He was the first U.S. man to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since Andre Agassi in 2003.

“A disappointing performance on my part today, to not have my ‘A’ game when I really expected it to be there,” Ginepri said. “At the same time, it was great last week and great tournament. I’ll probably be a little bit more happy tomorrow, but at the moment I’m a little discouraged with the way it went today.”

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