PARIS Amelie Mauresmo's dreams of shining at the French Open at last were crushed when the Frenchwoman lost 6-3 7-6 to Czech Lucie Safarova in a third-round match on Saturday.
Fifth seed Mauresmo, who had fallen as the defending champion to the same opponent in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open, played most of the match with a bandage around her upper right thigh.
The former world number one, who had never gone beyond the quarter-finals at Roland Garros on 12 previous appearances, fought bravely but could not avoid the frustration of another early exit.
"There were good rallies, it was a good fight," said Mauresmo, who returned to action last month after a two-month break due to appendicitis.
"It's disappointing. I was 3-0 up in both sets but I was not able to follow up. My preparations were not ideal. There was no miracle."
The athletic 27-year-old made a promising start, opening up a 3-0 lead, but then dropped her pace and let her opponent win four games in a row.
Mauresmo then left the court to take a medical break, the former world number one returning with her thigh strapped. She lost the next two games, dropping the set by hitting a backhand into the net.
Cheered on by a partisan crowd, the Wimbledon champion bounced back to win the first three games of the second set.
Her 20-year-old opponent, playing close to perfection, once again levelled the set at 3-3.
Both players then held serve until a tie break, which featured some exciting rallies. Safarova held nerve to win it 7-3, Mauresmo hitting a forehand into the net on the first match point to bow out after an hour and 54 minutes.
"Beating her in Australia was nice already but this is fantastic," Safarova said. "I was 3-0 down but I never gave up and I won in straight sets. That's great."
World number 29 Safarova, who claimed Justine Henin's scalp in the semi-finals of the Paris Open in February, goes on to meet Russia's Anna Chakvetadze for a place in the quarter-finals.