Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova set up showdown
PARIS -- Maria Sharapova walked calmly and elegantly out to Court Philippe Chatrier on Wednesday, clad in her crisp, men's-wear-style black jacket and black tennis dress. There was no smile on her face, no acknowledgement of the cheering crowd, just her customary look of stern determination.
She took off the jacket, neatly laid it down, precisely took out her tennis gear and started her day. And she looked like business in her French Open quarterfinal match against No. 23-seeded Kaia Kanepi, confirming her persona with her play.
Sharapova defeated Kanepi 6-2, 6-3, in a little more than an hour, and allowed herself to smile only when her task was completed.
And for a quarterfinals contrast, there was No. 4 Petra Kvitova, playing at the same time and also dodging rain drops on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Kvitova was less businesslike and more of a roller coaster, playing dazzlingly good and dumbfoundingly erratic tennis against qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova.
Kvitova ranged from a joyous fist-pumper to a frustrated head-shaker, but still managed to outlast the exhausted Shvedova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in nearly two hours.
Sharapova will face Kvitova in Thursday's semifinals, with the storyline becoming clear: They're both tall players with big games in different head spaces right now, but both are shooting to win their first French Open.
"Well, it's certainly nice to be in that position again," Sharapova said, about advancing. "It's my third time in the semifinals. After a tough match in the previous round, you know, I'm happy with the way I improved in this match. I thought that was really important, because [Kanepi is] someone that always competes and plays really well -- against top players, especially. She has that extra motivation."
Sharapova has been sailing in her five French Open matches, dropping only one set, to Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round. Kanepi was only the second seeded player she has played, making her life a bit easier. Sharapova is on a roll, and could regain the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2008 if she reaches the French Open final.
Kvitova has been more of an adventure, now having been pushed to three sets twice in five matches at Roland Garros. She has yet to play a seeded player, with American Varvara Lepchenko in the fourth round, at No. 63, being her highest-ranked opponent on the WTA food chain.
Playing against Sharapova, who has a 3-2 record against Kvitova, will be a big change. The duo met in the 2011 Wimbledon final, which Kvitova won, and the 2012 Australian Open semifinals, which Sharapova won.
Still, this five-win streak for Kvitova is significant, marking the first time since the Australian Open that she has been consistent and healthy enough to put things together. This is the third semifinal she has reached in the past four Grand Slams.
"It's good to know that I can play, and I hope that it will be not only five [wins in a row]," said Kvitova, who had never advanced to a French Open semifinal. "But I know Maria is a tough opponent. Yeah, I lost in the matches in the past, so I hope that I will remember something from the matches and try what I can to win against her. She's playing very well. She has a great season right now, and she's a very tough opponent. Then it will be a big change for me."
Sharapova agreed with Kvitova, saying their semifinal will force them both to play a higher-caliber opponent.
"She's an extremely tough opponent, someone that I have had good success in our last couple of previous meetings, but always tough matches," Sharapova said. "When she's confident, when she's hitting the ball, she's quite dangerous, so, yeah, obviously it's going to be another level, as well. I hope that I can raise my level, as well."
Kanepi and Shvedova were not unlikely or weak opponents, as both were making their second quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros. Kanepi also won here as a junior, back in 2001.
Sharapova's unrelenting aggressiveness, especially on service returns, made the difference. Sharapova won 58 percent of service returns and generally dictated the pace from start to finish.
"She puts the pressure on when she returns," said Kanepi, who won only 45 percent of her return points. "It's not very comfortable to serve, because you know you will have to serve well."
Kvitova's match was a very different story, as Shvedova, who excels in doubles, played inspired tennis during the first set. Shvedova went for broke on her serve and forehand, and Kvitova looked stumped and a step slow as Shvedova built a 3-0 lead to start the match.
But Shvedova's gas tank went empty, as she was playing her third week of grueling tennis at Roland Garros. Her court coverage slowed noticeably, her depth of groundstrokes shortened and Kvitova started regaining her form in the second and third sets. And like Sharapova, Kvitova was letting loose a primal scream every time she hit a winner.
Shvedova made a last stand in the final set, going up 4-2, but her dead legs failed her.
"I had zero energy left," a smiling Shvedova said. "Just super-tired. She was playing good and she was attacking, putting pressure a lot. It was very hard for me to play."
While Kvitova seemed a bit relieved to make it through her hectic day, Sharapova seemed like she had barely played tennis. Maybe she could fit in more people-watching, one of her favorite hobbies, to wind down after her pleasant day at work.
Business clearly had been taken care of, allowing Sharapova to relax and smile after her match. And dress a bit down, as she put the jacket away in favor of a comfy-looking, zip-up, gray-and-peach sweatshirt.
"I wish I could take everyone's style [in Paris] and put it in so many cities around the world we visit," Sharapova said. "I love the way that people go about their lives and the way they sit at cafes like a few centimeters from the cars going by. It's like, 'Is that really nice or not?' They seem to enjoy it. Everyone sits close to each other. You're listening or eavesdropping into their conversations.
"Yeah, very different, which I enjoy. Who wouldn't want that lifestyle? It's great to me. I could eat at L'Avenue every single day, have the escargot and the little strawberries they have for dessert, gain like 20 pounds. But that's all right."