PARIS – With the quick disappearance of the top two seeds in the ladies' event at the French Open – former champions both in Li Na and Serena Williams – No. 7 seed Maria Sharapova quickly rose to the top of the list of favorites.
Only one small detail remained: she actually had to win the rest of her matches.
For a long time Sunday against a resurgent Samantha Stosur, that plan looked very much in doubt.
But from 3-4 in the second set, Sharapova ran the table, defeating Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 and setting up a quarter-final showdown with Garbiñe Muguruza.
This was supposed to be when Sharapova met her nemesis, Williams. But Williams was beaten by the young Spaniard in the second round. Sharapova will take that tradeoff in a Paris minute.
Muguruza earned her way by defeating French wild card Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-2 in a late evening match on Court Philippe Chatrier.
"I thought Sam played a really good first set. With all that said, I had five break points and I didn't convert one of them. Against a player that's a very good server that uses her serve as a weapon to set up points, you don't take advantage of those particular moments and she gains a lot of confidence from that and swings and keeps serving well," Sharapova said. "But overall, I'm happy with the way I finished. I think that's, you know, the most important thing for me."
For Stosur, there was a little disbelief when it was over.
"I was a set all, 4‑all, and missed a return in the top of the tape. I mean, I was right there to win it. I knew that I was in a great position to, like I said, go through that match. And, yeah, from that moment, then things kind of got a little bit hairy," she said. "Actually can't believe from that moment I didn't win another game. How quickly things can turn. Even the third set I didn't feel like I played a bad set. It's a tough one."
The confidence levels of these two players are at opposite ends of the spectrum. And in the end, Sharapova's greater belief subtly – then like a jackhammer – changed the narrative of the match.
"From the start of the third set she – however she did it – managed to find another level. I mean, I think she really started playing more aggressive. And all those areas I was getting off, you know, my balls that I was putting her in those positions, they all of a sudden dried up and she was really dictating play," Stosur said. "As soon as you open that door a little bit, then she, I mean, she's can easily run away with matches. I think that's kind of what happened."
Three more wins remain for Sharapova, the former clay-impaired player who by sheer will has turned herself into a clay monster against most players, to take the title. If she gets through Muguruza, she would have either Carla Suárez or Nike stablemate Genie Bouchard to deal with.
With the other side of the draw in equal disarray, a finals opponent could be Simona Halep, the No. 4 seed who has never been anywhere close to being in such a big situation. Or Sara Errani of Italy. Or Jelena Jankovic. Or American Sloane Stephens. Or perhaps even Svetlana Kuznetsova – the only one remaining in that half who has even won a Grand Slam title. The last one came, as it happens, in Paris five years ago.