Why Maria Sharapova Was Praising Opponent After Falling At French

PARIS -- After a rainy Sunday, Monday was going to be a big day at the French Open, with the Big Four all playing on the men's side and a matchup of the only two Americans left, No. 1 Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, on the women's side. Then it got even more dramatic with the first match on Philippe Chatrier, in which Maria Sharapova came down with a case of the Mondays.

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Lucie Safarova had 34 winners, compared to just 20 by Maria Sharapova.

In a match postponed from Sunday evening, the defending French Open champion was knocked out in straight sets by Lucie Safarova 7-6 (3), 6-4. It was the earliest French departure since 2010 for Sharapova, who had been virtually unbeatable at Roland Garros in recent years. Since 2012, she had won 23 of her 24 matches, with the only loss coming in the 2013 final against nemesis Serena.

"It was just a tough day and a match that I lost,'' Sharapova said. "My opponent was at a much higher level more consistently than I was, and that results in a bad day at the office.''

Talk about a long day at the office -- Safarova had to play a doubles match quickly afterward, though after advancing to the quarterfinals here for the first time, she probably was in a much better mood than Sharapova.

Sharapova has been nursing a cold this tournament -- the tennis fashion icon even chose to wear a sweater, rather than a dress, to keep herself warm -- and it didn't help her play. Her infamous grunting was also affected; it sounded higher-pitched, though she was almost howling by the end of the match.

"I don't like to talk about it, and I don't think it really makes a difference,'' she said of the cold. "I'm still a competitor, no matter what. I'm going to do everything in order to go out and give it my best, and I think I did the best I could. Today, it wasn't enough because my opponent had a different gear than I did.''

They both have high gears against each other. Sharapova and the left-handed Safarova had previously faced each other five times, with Sharapova winning four of them. They were still close matches, with the past three all going three sets and averaging three hours. Of their 15 sets, seven have ended in tiebreakers.

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Maria Sharapova's rank will drop from second to fourth.

"I think she has really picked up her level,'' Sharapova said. "I think she's much more consistent off of both wings. She's playing really aggressive. I think she has a little bit more time on clay, allows her to use those lefty angles a little bit more. And she's done that extremely well.''

Sharapova had six aces, but she also double-faulted five times and played carefully on her second serves. She had a few opportunities to come back but squandered them.

The match was yet another example of how deep the competition is on the women's side. With Sharapova's loss, the Nos. 2 (Sharapova), 3 (Simona Halep), 5 (Caroline Wozniacki), 6 (Eugenie Bouchard), 8 (Carla Suarez-Navarro) and 10 (Andrea Petkovic) seeds are all out of the tournament. Sharapova will lose her No. 2 ranking and fall to fourth behind Petra Kvitova and Halep. Safarova will move into the top 10 for the first time.

Safarova, who has yet to drop a set at the French Open, will play Garbine Muguruza in the next round. Muguruza, who upset Serena in the second round last year, beat Flavia Pennetta in straight sets.

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