Second seed Maria Sharapova saved two match points before progressing into the quarter-finals of the French Open following an epic fourth-round clash against Patty Schnyder.
The Russian, who has been playing through pain at this year’s Roland Garros after her recent shoulder problems, held her nerve to claim a sensational 3-6 6-4 9-7 triumph, after more than two-and-a-half hours’ play on Suzanne Lenglen court.
Sharapova saved match points in the 10th and 14th games of the last set, only to clinch victory on the first of her own in the 16th and final game.
Schnyder, the 14th seed, will bemoan her failure to finish off Sharapova, the Swiss having served for the match on three occasions in the 77-minute final set.
Sharapova, who has never got past the quarter-finals at the Paris grand slam, will next play Russia’s Anna Chakvetadze after the ninth seed beat Lucie Safarova 6-4 0-6 6-2.
Safarova, of the Czech Republic, came into the match buoyed by her surprise win over home favourite Amelie Mauresmo on Saturday, but she could not repeat her exploits 24 hours later.
It is only the second time Chakvetadze has reached the last eight of a grand-slam event.
Serena Williams believes she is hitting form just at the right time following her straight-sets win over Dinara Safina.
The American, seeded eight, set up a mouthwatering quarter-final with reigning champion Justine Henin by dismissing her Russian opponent 6-2 6-3 on Philippe Chatrier court.
Williams put in some patchy displays in the opening three rounds but given the ease in which she breezed past 10th seed Safina, she looks ready for Henin.
“That was definitely better,” she said after her 76-minute victory.
“It came together in practice the other day. I was feeling a little bit better.
“I knew if I could play the way I practised, I would be able to do a good job.”
She added: “Usually I don’t like to peak too soon. I like to bring up the level of my play right around the quarters, semis and mainly the final.
“I feel good, and I feel better each match. I’m sliding better, I’m running better and I’m just playing the clay-court game a bit better.”
Henin, the top seed, will meet Williams after securing a 6-2 6-4 win over Sybille Bammer.
Williams, playing a higher-ranked opponent in Safina, was more impressive. She went 4-0 up in the first set, which she eventually took in 36 minutes.
After a flurry of breaks at the start of the second set, Williams won four straight points on the Safina serve to go 4-3 up and then held with ease to go to the brink of victory.
A Safina error on Williams’ first match point gifted the win to the American, and in doing so set up the match with Henin.
The clash will bring up memories of the last match between the two players at Roland Garros, which occurred in 2003.
It was an ill-tempered semi-final won by Henin, but marred by a number of heated incidents.
“I don’t want to reflect on that any more,” Williams said.
“I’ve let it go. And obviously she did. This is a new year. It was what it was and we’re both different people now.”
Williams is the only American left in either singles draw.
Henin, looking this year to claim her third straight title at Roland Garros, triumphed in an hour and 24 minutes against Bammer, the Austrian left-hander.
After a one-sided first set, the world number one went 4-0 up in the second before Bammer levelled it at 4-4.
Henin broke Bammer in the ninth game and then held, after squandering two match points, to claim the victory and maintain her record of not dropping a set this championship.
Nicole Vaidisova, the sixth seed, also made her way into the quarter-finals by thrashing Italy’s Tathiana Garbin 6-3 6-1 on Court 1.
The Czech Republic prodigy, 17, will play Jelena Jankovic in the last eight.
Vaidisova reached the semi-finals here last year, losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets, but she feels she has improved since then.
“I definitely try to learn from each year,” she said.
“Typically, I go for a lot of shots. But on clay I’m trying to wait for a little bit, put the ball in play more, and not hit it as much.
“I’ve been working on my game.”
Kuznetsova, seeded three this year, was a straight-sets winner over Shahar Peer on Court 1.
The Russian came into the match having never beaten the Israeli before, but she prevailed 6-4 6-3 to clinch a quarter-final place.
She struggled to finish the game off though, seeing her 5-0 lead in the second set reduced to 5-3, before claiming victory with the first of her three match points in the ninth game.
“I don’t think I’m playing very good tennis yet, so I’m looking forward to showing some more,” said Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova will meet Ana Ivanovic in the quarter-finals following the Serbian’s hard-fought three-set win over Anabel Medina Garrigues on Court 1.
The seventh seed, 19, wasted three match points before clinching a 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory over the Spaniard in two hours and 13 minutes.
Elsewhere, Jankovic, another Serb, set up the quarter-final against Vaidisova by running through France’s Marion Bartoli 6-1 6-1 in 64 minutes.