French Open - Clijsters shocked, Sharapova battles on
Thu, 26 May 12:24:00 2011
After a confident first-round victory and a great first set against Dutch neighbour Arantxa Rus, Clijsters lost a match point and her game suddenly fell apart to give the world number 114 a famous 3-6 7-5 6-1 win over one of her heroes.
The US Open and Australian Open champion was the second seed in Paris and had rushed back from hurting herself at her cousin's wedding to try to better her two runners-up finishes on the Roland Garros clay.
"I started doubting a little bit," Clijsters said.
"I think that, on clay, is something that for me is definitely the wrong attitude to have. My ankle feels fine, so that has absolutely nothing to do with it."
A massive 53 unforced errors and nine double-faults cost Clijsters dear but she did not regret battling back to fitness for the year's second grand slam having dominated a lacklustre women's game in the last nine months.
"I made the best with the situation that I was in, and I tried to go for it," the 27-year-old said with a resigned smile. "If I felt like I wasn't ready as much as I would have liked to be, I wouldn't have come here."
Runner-up in 2001 and 2003, the Belgian gave up a crucial second break in the final set with a double fault and the tall, long blonde-haired Rus gleefully took her chance with another break.
The weather was colder, cloudier and windier than recent days and a half-empty centre court failed to lift Clijsters, who has indicated in the past she may quit after next year's London Olympics.
She previously took two years off to have a child before winning the 2009 US Open in only her third tournament back.
That success led to Rus looking up to Clijsters and the 20-year-old, in only her third year on tour, can now revel in beating her.
"This is for sure my biggest win," said Rus, whose first name has nothing to do with Spain's former top player Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
"It was really nice to play against (Clijsters). She's a real hero. I really like to play on the centre court, it was the first time. So in the beginning I was a little bit nervous and after I started playing better and better."
French Open†: HLTS Clijste
Maria Sharapova looked anything but a potential champion in a torrid start against French teenager Caroline Garcia but found her feet and her fight to win 3-6 6-4 6-0.
"I think I relaxed and just let things happen," said the relieved Russian former world number one said after romping through the last 11 games just when a major shock looked on the cards.
"I was way too concerned about the conditions and wasn't moving my feet and just was really slow, and she was playing aggressive and hitting great shots.
"I just felt flat-footed in the beginning. I just hit the ball finally."
The cool, gusty conditions played havoc with Sharapova's trademark baseline power as she littered court Philippe Chatrier with errors during a terrible first half of the match.
She rarely ducks a scrap though and from trailing 6-3 4-1 against the 17-year-old she upped her tempo and began to hit her stride, reeling in her inexperienced opponent.
Sniffing an upset, the crowd turned up the volume midway through the second set but world number 188 Garcia, who was playing only her fourth match on the main tour, admitted the atmosphere got to her with a shock victory in sight.
"4-1, the Ola (Mexican wave), that was not easy to manage. I tried, but I didn't succeed," she said.
"I had many things going in my head, because I was leading. I was playing well. She was not really in the court. Then she reacted just like a champion, because she is a great champion.
"Then I started being very nervous, and I started playing more from the baseline and it was difficult to come back."
Former Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion Sharapova is no stranger to comebacks, having notably pulled two consecutive matches out of the fire at Roland Garros in 2009 from match points down.
"As far as the fighting, I think it's important to fight. It's not my job to compare myself to other players, but I'll never give up out there," she said.
Czech dark horse Petra Kvitova booked her place in the third round with a 6-4 6-1 victory over China's Zheng Jie while former quarter-finalist Sorana Cirstea eased past Romanian compatriot Alexandra Dulgheru, seeded 27th, 6-2 7-5.
Polish 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska also reached the third round by overcoming India's Sania Mirza 6-2 6-4 and will next face 21 first seed Yanina Wickmayer, after the Belgian beat Ayumi Morita 6-4 7-5.Reuters