MADRID: Holder Maria Sharapova needed more than two and a half hours of battle to see off a challenge from Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia on Wednesday, with the third seed finally posting a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 win to advance to the quarter-finals of the Madrid Masters.
Sharapova ended the dramatic third-round match with an ace, which had to be confirmed from the chair.
The 28th-ranked Garcia, clearly peeved to have missed her chance against the five-time Grand Slam winner, gave an abbreviated “drive-by” handshake as the players met for a few quick seconds at the net, following protocol in name only.
Sharapova is fighting to regain the number two WTA ranking that she lost last month with an early defeat in Stuttgart and needs to reach the final to have a chance of standing second again behind Serena Williams.
The scenario opened up at the weekend when second seed and 2014 losing finalist Simona Halep lost in her opening match at the Caja Magica.
Garcia reached the quarter-finals here a year ago as a qualifier and beat number 13 Karolina Pliskova in the second round this week to earn her spot against Sharapova.
Sharapova is also building for her Roland Garros title defence after beating Halep for the title in Paris last June.
The Russian started 2015 by winning 17 of her first 18 matches in 2015, but came to Madrid having lost three in a row.
She has now won 57 of her last 62 matches on clay as she waits to play either fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki of number nine Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters.
Sharapova produced a dozen aces to 10 for her opponent, breaking Garcia five times and losing her own serve on three occasions.
Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, the fourth seed, advanced with ease over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-4 with the Czech confirming that her clay gave is still not where she wants it.
Romanian Irina Begu beat Barbora Strycova 6-4, 6-4 to next take on Kvitova.
“I’m glad that I played better than yesterday for sure,” said Kvitova, who took an extended break form the sport in recent weeks to ward off burnout and fatigue. “I played more aggressive than yesterday, that was important.
“If I had not, I think she would have smashed me.
“It’s still taking some time to get to know each other well, and then we can start dating,” the Czech joked about her “reacquaintance” with clay.
“I’m glad everything went well. I served well and the last game was really important. I didn’t expect that I going to play three, four matches here before the tournament, so I’m really glad to still be in.”