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Tennis

Sharapova, Shvedova spurred on by injury heartache

Russia's Maria Sharapova. (AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)

PARIS: Global superstar Maria Sharapova and unheralded Yaroslava Shvedova attempt to set-up a French Open semi-final date on Wednesday spurred on by having conquered career-threatening injuries.

Sharapova, who needs a Roland Garros title to complete a career Grand Slam, saw her meteoric rise halted by shoulder surgery which sidelined her for almost a year until mid-2009.

Shvedova, meanwhile, injured her knee while on Hopman Cup duty for Kazakhstan in January 2010, and missed the Australian Open.

Although she won the women's doubles at Wimbledon with Vania King, her singles ranking collapsed to 206 from a place in the top 30.

That condemned her to play qualifiers at this French Open and if she makes it to the last four, she will be the first qualifier to reach the semi-finals.

Sharapova, the world number two, is now the overwhelming favorite to capture the title after the early exits of top seed Victoria Azarenka, defending champion Li Na and former winner Serena Williams.

Her 2004 Wimbledon triumph, 2006 US Open victory and 2008 title at the Australian Open all came before her shoulder surgery.

"I think I'm just much more grateful today for what I'm doing and what I have, more than anything," said Sharapova, who for the first time faces Estonian 23rd seed Kaia Kanepi for a place in the last four.

"So now when I'm playing, I really feel like I'm much more positive. Overall, I see my career much more positive than I looked at it back then, especially during the tough days.

"In the past I would always have to save myself, because knowing that it's seven matches. I never felt like I recovered that well. But I think with experience and just being physically stronger, I'm much better at that."

Sharapova, who came into Paris with claycourt titles in Stuttgart and Rome, cruised through her first three rounds for the loss of just five games.

But she struggled over three sets to beat experienced Czech Klara Zakopalova in a chilly, windswept fourth round on Monday, finishing with 53 unforced errors and 12 double faults, including one on match point.

Shvedova, now the world number 142, was a quarter-finalist in Paris in 2010, but she admitted that the last year had been tough.

"I had the injury and surgery right after Australia. I was recovering a very long time and when I came back my knee was bothering me for half a year," said the 24-year-old Moscow native.

"Then my coach left, and I had some tough periods mentally. I was very down and lonely. I was playing doubles but lost all my singles points.

"Since September I got a new coach (Emiliano Redondi) and he helped me out a lot. For this year we set a goal to get my ranking back, and I was working hard."

As she battled to rebuild her singles ranking, she found herself playing humble, third-tier events in Mexico.

It may have been intimate and friendly, but for a player used to being in the big events, it was also a professional endurance test.

"Even though it was nice atmosphere and there was no superstars and we were like big a big family, I wished I could come back here."

Shvedova tackles Czech fourth seed and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova for a place in the semi-finals. The two have never played each other before.

 

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