Maria Sharapova stayed on course for a second French Open title by reaching the quarter-finals at Roland Garros on Sunday, but two new-wave hopefuls are lining up to take her down.
The Russian seventh seed, and tournament favourite since the top three seeds all lost, produced a typically battling performance to overcome Australian veteran Samantha Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in a late finishing fourth round tie.
Stosur, the losing finalist in Paris in 2010, the year before she won her only major to date at the US Open, dominated the first set with two breaks of serve.
But Sharapova steadied the ship to lead 2-0 at the start of the second before Stosur levelled at 2-2.
The ninth game proved to be crucial as Sharapova fired down two stunning winners to break again and then held serve to level the match.
The Russian, who won the French Open in 2012 to complete a sweep of all four Grand Slam titles, grabbed another break to open the decider and with the Stosur challenge visibly wilting, she turned on the power to reach her third straight quarter-final in Paris.
“I am so happy to be back in the quarter-finals as it is such a special tournament for me,” she said. “I just hope I can raise my level and play even better in the second week.”
Waiting for her there in the last eight will be 20-year-old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza who had little difficulty seeing off the challenge of French wildcard Pauline Parmentier, winning 6-4, 6-2 in fading light on the Roland Garros centre court.
Muguruzu it was who produced the shock of the tournament to date with a second round upset of top seed and defending champion Serena Williams.
And if she fails to get the better of Sharapova, the Russian could be facing another 20-year-old in the semi-finals in the shape of fast-rising Eugenie Bouchard.
The Canadian from Montreal, who has stormed up the world rankings in the last year, crushed German eighth seed Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2 to reach her second Grand Slam quarter-final. Her first came in Australia in January when she made it through to the semis.
The youngest player left in the draw, Bouchard, seeded 18, had made a slow start to her two previous matches, but she hit the deck running against the big-hitting Kerber, a Roland Garros quarter-finalist in 2012.
The former world junior number one led 5-0 before allowing her opponent a game and despite some sterner resistance from Kerber at the start of the second set, it was mainly a case of one-way traffic.
Bouchard, who won her first career title in Nuremberg in the week before Roland Garros started, said that she was confident she could go deeper into the tournament.
“I mean, I’m confident, you know, and I really believe in my skills. I believe I can play with the best girls out there,” she said.
“She’s top 10 (Kerber), so I respect her. She can play some really good tennis. I was really mentally prepared for anything, for a battle.”
Standing in Bouchard’s way for a potential matchup against Sharapova is Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro who proved too good for 21-year-old Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic, winning 6-3, 6-3.
The 25-year Canary Islander, is through to her fourth Grand Slam quarter-final, six years after playing in the last eight at Roland Garros on her debut in the competition.
The quarter-final spots for Bouchard, Muguruza and Suarez Navarro were symptomatic of a women’s tournament full of surprises and new faces with the three top seeds — Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska — all failing to make the fourth round, the first time that has happened in the Open era.
The highest-ranking seed left is fourth-ranked Simona Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian who will attempt to reach the quarter-finals on Monday with a match against 21-year-old American Sloane Stephens.