PARIS - The final score of Maria Sharapova's stunning loss in the French Open quarterfinals yesterday did not look quite as embarrassing as it could have: 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. 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,' '' Sharapova said, "and I prefer 'W.' ''
"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 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 Slovakian who was making her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut and whose chief financial backer is not a shoe company or a racket manufacturer but a friend of her coach back home in Bratislava.
Now the 5-3 Cibulkova - 11 inches shorter than Sharapova - faces the current world 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.
One might have thought Cibulkova would feel exactly the opposite about her performance, but neither she nor her coach, Vladimir Platenik, thought she played perfectly.
"I told you!" Platenik said. "I told you if you played regular, you could do it!"
Strang things have happened at this tournament, not least being Robin Soderling's fourth-round upset of four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal. Given that accomplishment, there should be no doubting him.
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.
Gonzalez, the 2007 Australian Open runner-up, reached his first semifinal here with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 victory over No. 3 Andy Murray.
Cibulkova was steady throughout. She made only one unforced error in the first set and nine overall, 18 fewer than Sharapova. Cibulkova broke Sharapova's serve in the first game and with the help of two double-faults again in the third, and a pattern was established.
"I realized, like, 'What is happening? 6-0, 5-0, it's too much, I think, against Maria,' '' she said. "That's why maybe I missed the first match point."
She pushed a forehand long to start a run of eight consecutive points for Sharapova, which allowed the Russian to break to 5-1 and hold for 5-2. Serving for the match a second time, Cibulkova saw three more match points go to waste, but on match point No. 5, Sharapova dumped a forehand into the net, and Cibulkova dropped her racket and fell on her back, leaving a rusty splotch on her white top.
"She made me hit a lot of balls. She was very solid. She did the right things, I mean, in order to win," Sharapova said. "She won. I guess that's what only matters in the end." *