Amelie Mauresmo’s fragile hopes of winning her home grand slam tournament ended once more in heartache on Saturday when her French Open dreams were shredded by a familiar Czech foe.
On a day when Russian seeds Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova strolled into the fourth round by losing a combined total of 10 games, Lucie Safarova turned into public enemy number one when she shoved Mauresmo towards the exit with a 6-3 7-6 victory.
The 20-year-old Czech sealed Mauresmo’s demise for the second grand slam running after one hour and 54 minutes of riveting action.
As Safarova greeted her moment of triumph by punching the air in delight and blowing kisses to all corners of the court, a forlorn Mauresmo was left to dwell on her 13th flop in Paris.
”It was very close and it could have gone either way. It’s very disappointing as I was 3-0 up in each set and just couldn’t do it,” said the Wimbledon champion, whose French Open highlights remain two quarterfinal showings in 2003 and 2004.
World number two Sharapova had provided the warm-up act for the Mauresmo-Safarova showdown on the Philippe Chatrier court and made sure she did not outstay her welcome.
She recovered from a 4-1 blip in the second set to run through a 6-1 6-4 win over Russian qualifier Alla Kudryavtseva.
Third seed Kuznetsova, who was foiled by Justine Henin in the final 12 months ago, continued to slice through the draw by overwhelming Slovakian teenager Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-3.
They were joined by ninth seed Anna Chakvetadze, who ended the Asian challenge in the singles draw by outlasting Japan’s Ai Sugiyama 6-4 6-4 under a blazing sky.
But it was Chakvetadze’s last-16 opponent, Safarova, who basked under the sunshine.
”It was great, it was amazing. I felt nervous in the start because Amelie was at home, but I never gave up,” said the 29th ranked Czech.
Mauresmo had stepped on to the most famous claycourt stage declaring: ”I want revenge … I just want to make amends.”
Still haunted by the memories of her fourth-round downfall at the Australian Open, when Safarova had ended her reign as champion despite being ranked 70th in the world, Mauresmo kept her word for a 20 spellbinding minutes.
She barely gave her left-handed opponent a chance to soak up the atmosphere and had stormed into a 3-0 lead.
But things never come easy for Mauresmo in Paris and once again her challenge crumbled.
Trailing 4-3 in the first set, she took an injury time out to have her right groin strapped but the break did little to change her fortunes.
In all she lost six games in a row to hand the initiative to Safarova.
The second set proved to be a video replay of the first, Mauresmo surging to a 3-0 lead and Safarova winning the next four games to nose 4-3 ahead.
As matchpoint flashed up on the scoreboard with Safarova leading 6-3 in the tiebreak, an anxious Mauresmo ended her own ordeal with a forehand into the net. – Reuters