[PARIS] For the first time in four years, Maria Sharapova won't be playing in the final of the French Open tennis tournament.
The second-seeded Russian was outplayed Monday by Lucie Safarova, a Czech left-hander with a fierce forehand, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier.
"I felt I had small openings, and I just wasn't able to play a good few points, I just wasn't able to keep that level up today," Sharapova said in a news conference after Safarova fired 34 winners past her.
Defending the French Open title in the women's game hasn't been easy. Belgium's Justine Henin remains the last female champion to have successfully defended her crown when she won her fourth title in 2007.
Two-time champion Serena Williams's habit of living dangerously in Paris continued on Monday as she dropped the first set before recovering to win her match against fellow American Sloane Stephens. Williams also lost the opening set in her two previous rounds.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Williams said in a news conference. "Obviously I'm disappointed. Usually I'm winning in straight sets, and I'm business on and off the court. Now, I'm just winning, which is a good thing, too. There's always room for improvement."
Sharapova's defeat threw the bottom half of the women's draw wide open, with Serbian Ana Ivanovic the only quarterfinalist left on that side who has won a major title. The seventh-seeded Ivanovic, who plays Ukraine's Elina Svitolina on Tuesday, won Roland Garros in 2008, but hasn't gone beyond the quarterfinals of a major tournament since.
The winner of that match faces either Safarova or Garbine Muguruza, a hard-hitting Spaniard who beat Williams in the second round last year.
Williams, a 19-time major champion, plays Sara Errani on Wednesday, an Italian she's beaten in all of their seven matches.
"I'm not worried about running out of gas," Williams said. "I'm going to keep going as hard as I can until I'm out. And if that means I have to go another nine sets, then so be it."