- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

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,’ and I prefer ‘W,’ ” Sharapova said.

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.

“I’m not really happy with my game today,” Safina said.

Surprisingly, neither Cibulkova nor her coach, Vladimir Platenik, felt much better about her performance. “Regular” was the word Platenik used when they huddled in the hallway outside the locker room at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

“I told you!” Platenik said. “I told you if you played regular, you could do it!”

Indeed, stranger 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, even playing table tennis,” Gonzalez said.

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