Stuttgart: French Open champion Maria Sharapova admitted she had dug deep to reach the quarter-finals of Stuttgart`s WTA tournament after her three-hour marathon victory over claycourt specialist Lucie Safarova on Thursday.
Sharapova, who won last year`s Stuttgart title en route to her Roland Garros victory, needed three hours, nine minutes to squeeze past her Czech opponent for a 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3 second-round victory.
With a 5-2 lead in the third set and serving for the match, Sharapova squandered three match points as Safarova broke her, before the Russian returned the compliment to claim the match.
"I`ve had a few three-hour games in my career, so I knew I just had to keep fighting until the end," said the statuesque Russian, who faces former world number one Ana Ivanovic in Friday`s quarter-finals.
"That`s when it`s the time to get the game-plan going and calm down a little bit.
"Clay is one of her favourite surfaces and I knew this was going to be a tough game, so I am glad to get through.
"The first match of the claycourt season is always tough, it`s nothing like practising."
Sharapova`s last eight opponent Ivanovic beat Russia`s Nadia Petrova 6-4, 6-3 in her second round game, having dropped to 17th in the world rankings.
Earlier second-seed China`s Li Na has admitted she has one eye on a brand new sports car, the winner`s prize here, as she prepares to face Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals.
Li, who reached January`s Australian Open final, breezed through Thursday`s second-round match in 74 minutes to see off Croatia`s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-1, 6-2 in straight sets in her first match of the claycourt season.
Kvitova made the last eight after beating Germany`s Julia Goerges 2-6, 7-6(7/4), 6-2 in her second round match.
"I have a lot of room in my garage for a new car and it`s a pretty nice car," joked Li, with a brand-new Porsche parked at the side of the court, ready for the winner of Sunday`s final to drive away.
"It`s always tough when you change surface, so I`m excited to win my first match on clay for the season.
"Mirjana plays flat, so I had to prepare for that.
"I thought it would be a tough match because she has a lot of experience.
"I was happy I could play more aggressive and had the right game plan to win."
Third-seed Angelique Kerber, ranked sixth in the world, also had no problems as she blasted past Russia`s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-4 to set up a quarter-final clash with Kazakhstan`s Yaroslava Shvedova.
Former world number one Jelena Jankovic of Serbia crashed out in the second round when she was beaten in straight sets 7-6(7/3), 7-5 by Germany`s Sabine Lisicki.