NEW YORK: Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova joined the exodus of US Open top seeds yesterday, succumbing in three sets to former world number one Caroline Wozniacki.
The 10th-seeded Dane booked a quarter-final berth with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 triumph on a steamy Arthur Ashe Stadium court, not long before thunderstorms stopped play for some two hours due to rain.
The conditions were so oppressive that the players were granted a break in the locker room before the third set, and when they returned to the court Wozniacki wasted little time, breaking Sharapova to love in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead.
She broke the Russian superstar again in the final game to seal the victory -- smacking a backhand winner on match point.
She’ll play 13th-seeded Italian Sara Errani for a place in the semi-final.
Errani ended the magical run of 32-year-old Croatian qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3, 2-6, 6-0.
“It means so much to me,” said Wozniacki, the 2009 runner-up who reached the semi-finals in 2010 and 2011 but hadn’t been past the third round at Flushing Meadows the last two years.
“It’s been a bit up and down for me this season,” added the Dane, who in addition to some indifferent results had to cope with the abrupt and highly publicized end of her engagement to golfer Rory McIlroy.
“To win today against a champion like Maria is an unbelievable feeling,” added Wozniacki, who kept her composure in the face of a second-set surge from Sharapova.
In the third, Wozniacki came out firing, pushing Sharapova into long rallies and mistakes.
“When we had that break, I said ‘OK, win or lose I’m going to go for my shots,” Wozniacki said. “I’m going to go for it. This is the only chance I have to win. If I’m going to lose, at least I’m going to do it with dignity.”
The departure of fifth-seeded Sharapova leaves just two of the women’s top eight -- world number one and two-time defending champion Serena Williams and seventh-seeded Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. With the schedule in some disarray thanks to the rain delay, yet another former world number one, ninth-seeded Serb Jelena Jankovic, was to take on Swiss 17-year-old Belinda Bencic and 14th-seeded Czech Lucie Safarova tried to stop the run of unseeded Chinese Peng Shuai.
Peng and Bencic were key contributors in the spate of upsets in the tournament.
Peng ousted fourth-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round and Bencic dispatched sixth-seeded German Angelique Kerber in the third.
Bencic, coached by Martina Hingis’ mother Melanie Molitor, is trying to become the youngest US Open quarter-finalist since Hingis won the 1997 title at the age of 16.
Lucic-Baroni, ranked 121 in the world, accounted for the third-round exit of world number two Simona Halep.
But the Croatian, a teen sensation in the 1990s whose career was derailed by the trauma of an abusive father, financial troubles and injury, couldn’t find a way past the metronomic Errani.
The Italian played it safe, coming up with just four outright winners to the 46 of Lucic-Baroni -- but also committing only nine unforced errors to the 69 of her opponent.
In the first set, Errani put 100 percent of her first serves in play. Asked how she managed that on a windy day, Errani said she couldn’t afford not to.
“I serve slowly, so I have to put mine in,” she said.
Errani said Lucic-Baroni’s power left her little choice but to try to out-wait her.
“To move the ball, to be in long points with her is impossible,” Errani said.
“She hits the ball very strong. She made winners and she made unforced errors. So I just had to try to make her make mistakes,” she added.
Lucic-Baroni said the Italian’s success deserved respect, despite her lack of fireworks.
“You know, she had five winners in the whole match and missed maybe three balls. She runs and she fights hard, that’s the way it is,” Lucic-Baroni said.