Sharapova the latest giant to fall

In a season full of talk about the parity in women’s tennis, unheralded Galina Voskoboeva became the latest to step up and prove exactly that point Thursday.

TORONTO — In a season full of talk about the parity in women’s tennis, unheralded Galina Voskoboeva became the latest to step up and prove exactly that point Thursday.

The 26-year-old from Kazakhstan, ranked just 135th in the world, dispatched No. 5 Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-5, on a day that not only marked the ousting of one of the sport’s biggest stars, but the ejection of a couple of newly-minted Grand Slam champs.

Voskoboeva, who cruised past Marion Bartoli and Flavia Pennetta to earn her date with Sharapova, beat the Russian veteran with lovely drop shots and had the six-foot-two Sharapova chasing balls back to the baseline all game long.

“Every game was so tight, you know. It’s like it was deuce, advantage, deuce, advantage,” Voskoboeva said.

“So I just knew that I have to be focused and to continue playing… anything could happen.”

Sharapova became the latest casualty of the Rogers Cup women’s draw, which has seen 11 of the 16 seeds bow out.

The tour’s top 10 women hail from nine different countries, there aren’t one or two stars who dominate every tournament, and on any given day, anybody can win.

Thursday was proof of that.

“It makes for an exciting story because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you’re ranked or seeded, the reason we go out and play the matches is to know who’s going to be the winner on that day,” said Sharapova, who has 23 career singles titles — Voskoboeva reached her first career semifinal earlier this year.

“Whether you’re number one in the world or you’re facing someone that’s 100 or so, you still have to go out and win. That’s what the sport is all about,” Sharapova added.

Hours earlier, No. 6 seed Li Na was knocked out of the third round’s action with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to No. 10 seed Samantha Stosur of Australia. Li became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title two months ago at the French Open.

American star Serena Williams advanced to the quarter-finals with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Chinese qualifier Zheng Jie. Williams showed off her powerful serve, firing 10 aces.

After a tough first set, Williams took the momentum in the second and dictated play from there.

“I decided that I had to like really relax and really calm down and just, you know, try to start playing better,” Williams said. “She was really just playing well from the whole match. I just tried to do better.”

And No. 11 Andrea Petkovic of Germany joined Stosur and Williams in the quarter-finals after cruising by seventh-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2. Kvitova won Wimbledon last month to claim her first Grand Slam title.

No. 3 seed Vera Zvonareva of Russia is also out, losing 6-4, 7-6 (4) to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

Voskoboeva and Sharapova battled point for point before the Kazakh player nearly lost her composure, allowing Sharapova an opening in the match that lasted an hour 47 minutes. The 24-year-old Sharapova was facing match point three times but Voskoboeva double-faulted twice and then fired a shot into the net. Voskoboeva hurled her racket to the ground in frustration a couple of times pulling herself together, sealing the victory when Sharapova’s shot fell short.

“Obviously she played really well this tournament and you could tell today that she came to the match with a lot of confidence, swinging away and going for serve and her shots,” Sharapova said. “If she could consistently play like that, she wouldn’t be ranked where she is today. She showed that she can play really great tennis.”

No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus booked her spot in the quarter-finals with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, while Roberta Vinci of Italy defeated Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Thursday’s loss of star power came a day after No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki was ousted. Also gone: second-seeded Kim Clijsters, who withdrew earlier this week due to an abdominal injury, and former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic and No. 9 seed Marion Bartoli, who were dispatched in their opening matches.

No Canadian players remain in the singles draw.

Two months after powering her way to title on the clay courts at Roland Garros, Li Na spent her first and last match of the tournament trying to rediscover the form that propelled her to superhero status in China.

“I felt like a junior on the court,” Li said.

Li was playing her first game of the week after being handed a bye through the first round and then a walkover victory when Shuai Peng of China withdrew with an injury.

The rust was obvious as she fired numerous returns long on another blustery day at Rexall Centre, eventually bowing out when she smacked a forehand into the net.

“It’s always tough after a break to come back for the first match, because I had six or seven weeks that I didn’t play a tournament,” Li said. “At the beginning of the match I didn’t even know what I should do on the court, not like during the clay-court season.”

The Li-Stosur match was held during a power outage at the venue — a Toronto Hydro problem, according to Rogers Cup organizers. The main scoreboard remained dark for just over an hour, while the corner scoreboard periodically worked, powered by a backup generator.

The lack of electricity was mirrored by a match that was absent of any sizzle, as the 27-year-old Stosur, who has two career singles titles, used her powerful serve to topple Li. And for the second straight day, the wind was factor, swirling around the stadium at 25 kilometres an hour, wreaking havoc for the players and providing a chilly match for spectators.

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