Maria Sharapova fired a French Open warning with an epic three-hour win over Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko to reach the Rome semifinals on Friday.
Former world No 1 and five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova found herself in a dogfight with her Latvian opponent.
Playing her fourth match in as many days, Sharapova needed three hours, 10 minutes to win a gruelling struggle, eventually triumphing 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 7-5.
For Sharapova, now the world number 40, it was arguably her best victory since her return from a 15-month doping ban last year.
The loss, meanwhile, left Ostapenko with only Rome and Stuttgart quarterfinals to show for her efforts prior to the start of her title defence in Paris a week from Sunday.
“It was nice to close things down in that way after a long match,” Sharapova said.
“I didn’t have a great first set, I kept going. I like to smile about it.
“I appreciate this new chapter of my career, I still have lots of passion for the sport and for this life. I realise I’m towards the end of my career so I appreciate it.”
Sharapova rode a roller-coaster in her marathon win, working her way from 4-1 down in the first set only to drop it in a tiebreaker after 80 minutes.
She regained her momentum to win the second set but it was tough in the third when she let a 4-2 lead get away.
With Sharapova serving for victory, Ostapenko secured a break for 4-5 thanks to a ninth Sharapova double-fault which yielded a break point.
The sixth seed then saved two Sharapova match points to level 5-5 before the Russian secured victory two games later with a final break in a match marred by 21 cumulative double-faults and a dozen breaks of serve.
Estonian Anett Kontaveit earned an upset over second seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1.
Fourth seed Elina Svitolina recovered from a slow start to defeat former No 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 6-4.
“I had to really step up and play really aggressive in important moments,” Svitolina said. “I think that was the key for today.”
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