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Sharapova comeback falls short, Safina powers into semis

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-02

While former world number one Maria Sharapova (photo) saw her dream of a comeback shattered by Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, top seed Dinara Safina defeated Belarusian Victoria Azarenka to reach the semi-finals.

AFP - Pint-sized Dominika Cibulkova became the first Slovakian to reach the French Open semi-finals on Tuesday after striking down Russian giant Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-2.

Now the 5ft 3in (1.61m) Cibulkova must tackle another mighty figure in the women's game in the intimidating shape of world number one and top seed Dinara Safina, who reached her second successive Roland Garros semi-final with a 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over Victoria Azarenka.

 

Sharapova, a three-time Grand Slam title winner, but who has never got beyond the last four in Paris, was playing just her second tournament following a 10-month lay-off to recover from a shoulder injury.

She had needed three sets in each of her four matches here to make the last eight and the 22-year-old simply ran out of steam against an inspired Cibulkova, who is enjoying her best Grand Slam run.

Tuesday's loss was former world number one Sharapova's heaviest defeat since she went down 6-1, 6-1 to Serena Williams in the fourth round in Miami in 2007.

It could have been a lot worse as Cibulkova had a match point to complete a 6-0, 6-0 humiliation before the Russian managed to put two games together to stop the rot.

Sharapova saved three more match points in the eighth game of the second set before her resistance crumbled with a netted forehand.

Sharapova, whose world ranking slumped to 126 during her time off the tour, had won both her previous clashes against the 20-year-old Cibulkova and both were on clay.

But Cibulkova, 11 inches (27cm) shorter than the glamorous Russian, was in complete control from the outset and claimed victory on a fifth match point when Sharapova put a weary return into the net.

Sharapova finished with 27 unforced errors to her opponent's nine.

Fellow Russian Safina, still seeking a first Grand Slam title to back up her number one status, made the most of watching Belarusian ninth seed Azarenka's game and hair-trigger temperament fall apart.

"She played well in the first set. I wasn't doing anything. I played in her zone and hit down the middle and did all the running," admitted Safina.

"But then I fought hard and she missed too much."

Safina, the runner-up in 2008, had stormed into the quarter-finals having lost just five games in four rounds, but it took only 20 minutes on Tuesday for the 23-year-old to drop five more.

Azarenka had defeated Safina for the first and only time in four previous meetings on her way to the Miami title in March and the 19-year-old, who knocked out defending champion Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, came out firing, spearing a succession of flat, deep, forehand and backhand winners.

Three breaks of serve gave the blonde the opening set after just 21 minutes.

But Safina was in control of the rest of the tie and wrapped up her 19th win in her last 20 claycourt ties.

The remaining two quarter-finals take place on Wednesday with unseeded Romanian teenager Sorana Cirstea facing Australian 30th seed Samantha Stosur and Russian seventh seed up against world number two Serena Williams, the 2002 champion.

Date created : 2009-06-02

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