Sharapova advances at Rogers Cup

Lightning and torrential rains delayed play, but couldn’t keep Maria Sharapova from advancing to the quarter-finals Thursday at the Rogers Cup.

Maria Sharapova of Russia tosses the ball to serve to Vera Zvonareva of Russia in Rogers Cup tennis action in Toronto on Thursday.

Maria Sharapova of Russia tosses the ball to serve to Vera Zvonareva of Russia in Rogers Cup tennis action in Toronto on Thursday.

TORONTO — Lightning and torrential rains delayed play, but couldn’t keep Maria Sharapova from advancing to the quarter-finals Thursday at the Rogers Cup.

After stormy weather suspended play for over an hour, Sharapova defeated Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 7-6 (3) in the third round of the US$2-million WTA event.

Having knocked off the seventh-seeded Zvonareva, the 22-year-old Russian star now finds herself in uncharted Canadian territory. Sharapova has never played deeper than the third round at the tournament.

After strolling through the first set, Sharapova had trouble holding serve and found herself behind in the second, when Zvonareva won four straight games.

Not that it mattered. Sharapova hit Zvonareva for five break points and stretched the match to a tiebreaker that she won easily.

Sharapova, who will next face No. 14. Agnieszka Radwanska, has Serena Williams as company in the quarter-finals. Williams advanced after dispatching Alona Bondarenko 6-1, 6-4.

At first, it looked like another easy day for the No. 2 American. After cruising through the first set, Williams appeared ready for the next round when Bondarenko found her swing in the second.

But Williams took a breath, relaxed, and won three straight games to move on.

Williams chalked up the minor hiccup in her quest for a second Rogers Cup title to a momentary loss in composure.

“I was just trying to be perfect and then I just couldn’t get my serve in and got frustrated,” said Williams. “You know, I’ve been practising a lot on my serve, it just hasn’t been well, so I think in any case it can be frustrating.”

Earlier, Elena Dementieva also stumbled in the second set but rallied against a persistent Shahar Peer, defeating the Israeli 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.

The fourth-seeded Russian will face Australia’s Samantha Stosur in the quarter-finals. Stosur swept France’s Virginie Razzano 6-3, 6-1 in third-round match.

Meanwhile, Aravane Rezai couldn’t repeat the magic of her huge upset over top seed Dinar Safina, falling 6-3, 6-4 to Russia’s Alisa Kleybanova, Czech Lucie Safarova beat China’s Jie Zheng 7-6 (3), 6-4 and Radwanska of Poland downed Kateryna Bondarenko of the Ukraine 7-5, 6-3.

Williams, who will face Safarova in the quarter-finals, has rarely been challenged at the Rexall Centre. She easily beat Yaroslava Shvedova on Wednesday and may not face a seeded player until the semifinals.

But she knows she has to keep her cool if she’s going to make it that far.

“I get really emotional on the court,” she said. “Sometimes I’m really into the game too much, and I’ve just got to (remain calm). I can’t help myself when I do that, I think it’s just something natural and hopefully it helps me. I think towards the end I was able to relax and just calm down and then just try to stay positive more than anything.”

She admitted she was disappointed in Thursday’s performance after a strong start to the tournament.

“I thought that if I could keep up that form, I’m on my way into glory and today I didn’t play as well so hopefully I can get it back,” said Williams.

The victory may have been extra sweet for Williams, the highest-seeded player left at the tournament after Safina was eliminated. Kateryna Bondarenko, Alona’s sister, ousted Serena’s sister Venus on Tuesday.