Paris: Kim Clijsters crashed out of Roland Garros on Thursday, her worst Grand Slam result in nine years, while Maria Sharapova escaped humiliation at the hands of a fearless 17-year-old French girl.
Second seed Clijsters let slip a set and a 5-2 lead, and squandered two match points, to slump to a stunning 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 second round defeat to Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus, the world number 114.
Seventh seed Sharapova came back from a set and 1-4 down to win 11 games in succession to defeat world number 188 Caroline Garcia, playing in only her second tour level tournament, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Despite not having played a claycourt match in the run-up to Roland Garros, due to a shoulder problem and then a freak ankle injury suffered while dancing at a cousin's wedding, Clijsters said she had been ready to compete.
"I'm happy that I gave myself an opportunity. If I had said: 'It's better not to come', that would be the attitude of a real loser," said the US and Australian Open champion, playing in Paris for the first time since 2006.
"I had practised well. Physically everything was fine. I was definitely ready."
On a chilly and windswept Philippe Chatrier court, the 27-year-old, the runner-up in 2001 and 2003, committed a total of 65 unforced errors and 10 double faults.
The slender 1.80m Rus, named in honour of Spain's Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the triple Roland Garros champion, said: "It was my biggest win. Kim is my hero. I played fantastic tennis."
Rus is the first Dutchwoman to make the third round of a Grand Slam since Michaella Kracijek at Wimbledon in 2007 and next faces Russia's Maria Kirilenko for a place in the last 16.
Sharapova, the former world number one and triple Grand Slam title winner, looked set to follow Clijsters out of the tournament.
But the Russian superstar summoned her famed fighting spirit to set-up a clash against Taiwan's Chan Yung-Jan for a place in the last 16 after a bruising experience.
"It's never over until it's over. No matter what situation you are in, you have to keep fighting," said Sharapova, who had been scheduled to face Clijsters in the last eight.
"I never really felt comfortable. She was serving well, but I felt her pace went down as the match went on, especially on her serve. And maybe at the start I was focussing too much on the conditions rather than on myself."
It had been a clincial performance by Garcia, whose 57,000-dollar career earnings pale compared to Sharapova's on-court riches of almost 15 million as she dominated the first half of the tie.
Garcia, the daughter of a Lyon estate agent, didn't lack confidence having gone into the match against the sport's biggest drawcard confidently backing herself to be number one in the world in the not too distant future.
She regularly found the corners and lines of the famous old court with surgical precision, leaving Sharapova heavy-footed and struggling to find her usual clinical, power game.
After wrapping up the first set, she was soon 4-1 ahead in the second and sensing a famous triumph.
But Sharapova, who has never reached a Paris final, was not going quietly and pulled level at 4-4.
Then a crucial over-rule in her favour at 30-30 in the next game swung the tie firmly in her favour and she did not look back as she romped to victory against a visibly tiring Garcia.
"From the second set, she was striking the ball much harder, and the stupid mistakes that she made in the first set she no longer made them," said Garcia.
Also making the last 32 were fourth seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus who eased past France's Pauline Parmentier 6-0, 6-1 and Chinese sixth seed Li Na who saw off Spanish qualifier Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-4, 7-5.
Australian runner-up Li will face Sorana Cirstea for a place in the last 16 after the Romanian, a quarter-finalist in 2009, defeated 27th-seeded compatriot Alexandra Dulgheru 6-2, 7-5.
Tournament darkhorse Petra Kvitova, the ninth-seeded Czech, who won the Madrid Masters title earlier this month, beat Zheng Jie 6-4, 6-1.
First Published: Friday, May 27, 2011, 09:23