(Recasts with details and quotes)
By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS, June 5 (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova’s father is so confident about his daughter’s French Open credentials that he has declared that she “can beat Rafael Nadal on clay”.
Whether or not Yuri Sharapov still held that belief when his only child was whitewashed by Jelena Jankovic in the opening set of her Roland Garros quarter-final on Wednesday is anyone’s guess.
What is in no doubt is that he raised a champion who is always ready to fight it out to the bitter end, and Sharapova kept her wits about her following a first-set walloping.
After watching the set disappear under a hail of unforced errors flying off her racket, Sharapova kept alive her hopes of retaining the Suzanne Lenglen Cup with a 0-6 6-4 6-3 win over Jankovic.
Sharapova had entered the contest with a 7-1 win-loss record over her old sparring partner from the Bollettieri Academy but no one would have guessed that following the opening 28-minute nightmare.
With the Russian’s backhand misfiring, forehand malfunctioning and serve stuck in first gear, Sharapova gave Jankovic free rein to do as she pleased.
The Serbian former world number one blasted winners with her “money-shot” backhand “that pays my bills” and drew loud cheers for sliding into the splits as she chased down the ball.
Jankovic wrapped up the first set after yet another sloppy forehand from Sharapova, which took the number two seed’s unforced errors count to 20.
“You have to erase the chapter and move forward... no matter how bad I was playing or how well my opponent was playing, I still felt I was in the match,” a relieved Sharapova said in courtside interview.
“Sometimes you just have to get the job done, and I did today.”
Jankovic, rather than pressing home her advantage in front of a group of flag-waving Serbian male fans who chanted her name throughout the match, paid a huge price for what at the time seemed like an innocuous mistake.
A slight misjudgement from the 18th seed in the opening game of the second set, when she opted to hit the ball at Sharapova rather than go for an outright winner, threw the Serbian off course and she went on to drop her serve and the set.
That left Jankovic to resort to her usual habit of muttering away to herself as Sharapova kept her eye firmly on the ball to break in the seventh game of the third.
A forehand into the tramlines from Jankovic handed Sharapova a place in the semi-finals for the third year running and a date with third-seeded Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka who beat Russian Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (3) 6-2.
“At the end she was the better player. I was a bit unlucky, but I fought, I fought hard until the end,” said Jankovic, who was unsurprisingly plastered with tape along her shoulder and thighs after a hectic few days of playing singles, doubles and mixed doubles in Paris.
“A couple of bad decisions...and this is what happens.” (Editing by Clare Fallon)