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Sharapova loses match, wins crowd

MARIA Sharapova left the French Open on Tuesday following a 0-6, 2-6 quarterfinal demolition by Slovak Dominika Cibulkova but it was not all bad news as she had finally won over the fickle Roland Garros crowd.

The former world No. 1, who was jeered off court in Paris after being eliminated in 2007 and 2008, was backed enthusiastically as she battled past her first four opponents in three sets.

"Allez Maria!" became a regular chant heard around Suzanne Lenglen Court and when the Russian found herself 0-6, 0-5 down against the 20th seeded Cibulkova, the volume of support reached deafening levels, especially when she saved a match point with a forehand winner.

The 102nd-ranked Sharapova, who is on a comeback trail following a nine-month injury layoff, saved three more to the delight of the fans but finally bowed out on the fifth. The crowd still gave her a standing ovation.

"I was very appreciative of the way they were rooting for me, asking for me to fight and to keep working and find a way to turn things around," Sharapova told a news conference.

"I've had a really great last few weeks here, and I can only tell them that I'll be back next year."

Cibulkova, who will face world No. 1 Dinara Safina for a place in Saturday's final, was taken aback by the crowd reaction.

"I was a little bit surprised because this never happened to me that so many people were maybe not against me, but they wanted Maria to go, to play, to beat me or to watch longer our tennis," she said.

Sharapova, who returned to singles action last month at the Warsaw Open, said she was not too bothered by the fact she almost lost the match without winning a game.

"The only real difference is numbers. Like I said, I don't really care about numbers," she said.

"It's either a W or an L, and I prefer W. If it's 7-6 in the third and you come out with a loss, what's the difference? You lose.

"Obviously you try to give 100 per cent and you try to fight for everything. And I've always been a fighter and I always will be."

When Cibulkova realized she was about to whitewash Sharapova, her nerves got the better of her.

"It was really tough, because when I was up 6-0, 5-0, 40-30, in this moment I realized what I could do," she said.


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