Paris: Defending champion Maria Sharapova cantered into the quarterfinals at the French Open with a 6-4, 6-3 win over American 17th seed Sloane Stephens.
Second seeded Sharapova triumphed in 1hr 29min and now faces either Serbian 18th seed Jelena Jankovic or US hope Jamie Hampton.
Sharapova, who in beating Sara Errani in last year's final became the sixth player in the Open era to complete a full collection of Grand Slams, overcame early resistance from a rival she had beaten twice in as many previous meetings as a crunching pair of forehands saw her take the opening set in 37min.
The pair traded breaks at the start of the second set before Stephens dug in to hold for a 2-1 lead. But Sharapova stepped through the gears to see off the Australian Open semifinalist as Floridian Stephens, 20, gifted her a final break by hitting long on match point.
"I knew this was going to be a really hard match so I'm delighted to be in the quarter-final," said Sharapova, who now has an extra day to relax.
"Am I pleased to have finished my match a day before my next opponent? We don't choose the scheduling, it just depends how it goes. I'm just pleased to be through to the next round."
Third seed Victoria Azarenka reached the French Open quarterfinals for the third time yesterday with a 6-3, 6-0 win over 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone.
The double Australian Open champion will now face Russian 12th seed Maria Kirilenko for a semifinal place.
The protagonists know each other well, not least as erstwhile doubles partners — they were notably runners-up at the 2011 Australian Open while Azarenka saw off Kirilenko in the London Olympics bronze medal match last summer.
In her fourth round match, Kirilenko, despite needing treatment for a sore shoulder, saw off unseeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States 7-5, 6-4 to reach the last eight at Roland Garros for the first time after recovering from losing the opening three games.
The 26-year-old from Moscow, who broke in the sixth and eighth games to make up for her slow start and then overcame an opening service loss at the start of the second set, has now equalled her best ever Grand Slam showing of runs to the quarters at Wimbledon 2012 and the Australian Open three seasons ago.
Schiavone, the world number 50, matched the 23-year-old Azarenka shot for shot and scream for scream in a first set which featured six breaks of serve.
But the pair's nine-year age difference told in the second set, which Azarenka swept through in just 26 minutes, having reeled off nine straight games.
"The beginning was back and forth. I feel like I didn't take all of the opportunities but there was kind of a build - up to later on that I was doing the right thing."
The French Open is the only Grand Slam where Azarenka has failed to get beyond the quarterfinals. She was beaten at the last-eight stage by Dinara Safina in 2009 and by Li Na, two years later.
Azarenka has a 3-2 winning record against close friend Kirilenko — who won the first two matches of their series although her last triumph was back in 2007.
"Maria, I played her a lot of times. I think the last time we played was the Olympics. She's definitely improved a lot over the last couple years," said Azarenka.
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