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'Underdog' Sharapova set for Li

BEING the underdog suits Maria Sharapova at the French Open, where she enjoyed being backed by the fickle Parisian crowd in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 third-round victory over Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova on Friday.

In recent years the Russian has endured a torrid relationship with the Roland Garros fans and was famously booed off court when she was knocked out in 2007 and 2008.

But no longer the world No. 1, the 102nd-ranked Russian seems to have become a firm favorite as she is on a comeback trail following a nine-month layoff with a career-threatening shoulder injury.

"Allez Maria!" the fans screamed as they cheered her on while she gasped for breath after running down many of her opponent's cunning drop shots.

Summing up the change of the crowd's attitude toward her, Sharapova quipped: "You're ranked outside the top 100, so people like you."

"When you're No. 1 in the world, for some reason they don't like you anymore. It's amazing how the society works.

"Especially here in France, I think they always love the underdog, and they always love the one that comes back from behind, or the one that's not expected to win. I'm probably that person," added the three-time grand slam champion, who will next face Li Na. The Chinese 29th seed saw off Olga Govortsova of Belarus 7-5, 6-1.

A beaming Sharapova blew kisses to all corners of the center court after overcoming a miserable start to down Shvedova.

Sharapova found the perfect recipe to strike up her relationship with the French crowd by unleashing winners after falling one set down on a sunbathed court to finally emerge victorious after two hours and 27 minutes.

"I could not serve at 100 percent because a muscle was pulling (in my arm) and because of this my arms got tired and it was difficult to hit the balls," said the Kazakh, who came to the post-match press conference with an ice pack wrapped around her arm.


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