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Maria Sharapova's effort isn't rewarded as she loses to Zheng Jie

TENNIS

The 10th-seeded Sharapova struggles with arm pain and her serve, dropping in 14 double faults at BNP Paribas Open. The 18th-seeded Zheng of China prevails, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

March 14, 2010|By Diane Pucin

Maria Sharapova's grunting has not been subdued by her aches and pains. She still puts out the guttural sound of effort whenever she digs deep to hit a groundstroke.

But on Sunday at Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Sharapova's tennis game was muted.

A trainer was needed deep in the third set to massage her aching right arm. Her serve was under duress and making Sharapova distressed, especially when she dropped in 14 double faults. After a two-hour, 43-minute match filled with plenty of effort, the 10th-seeded Sharapova left the BNP Paribas Open as an upset loser, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, to 18th-seeded Zheng Jie of China.

In Sunday night's final match, second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark played 32nd-seeded Russian Maria Kirilenko.

Fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia had an easy time moving into the fourth round. Dementieva was mostly unchallenged in her 6-4, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium. Dementieva is playing here for the eighth time, and her best finish was runner-up in 2006 when she lost to Sharapova in the finals.

The 28-year-old Dementieva's game is still vibrant. Her movement Sunday was elegant. She was never pushed into any danger zone by Flipkens, who is ranked 77th in the world, though Dementieva pronounced her day as more difficult than it appeared.

"I just feel like I really need to practice more," she said.

Sharapova will have plenty of practice time.

Her loss was marked by big bunches of service errors, including a double fault on break point against her in the eighth game of the final set. Both serves were far away from the box, and Sharapova yelped after the second mis-hit.

In the break after the fifth game of the final set, Sharapova called for the trainer.

"It was my elbow," Sharapova said. "I just felt like I couldn't extend it all the way. It was a little stuck."

Sharapova said she has felt pain in the same area as far back as last year's U.S. Open. In all her comments Sunday, she seemed subdued. "It's just disappointing," Sharapova said.

Zheng, 26, said she executed her game plan, which was to keep Sharapova moving.

"If she stay there [in one place], I'd never have a chance, because she plays so hard and so aggressive," Zheng said.

It seemed as if Sharapova had found a good rhythm in the second set. She fought hard for a service break in the third game that lasted through eight deuces, and when she held serve in the next game on a second-serve winner, Sharapova threw out a happy fist pump.

Sharapova even served out the set despite a double fault that gave Zheng a break point. The momentum stayed with Sharapova a bit longer too. She broke Zheng at 15 in the first game of the final set. Sharapova was grunting on nearly every shot.

But whatever confidence seemed on Sharapova's side disappeared in the next game. She got down 0-30 with a double fault, gave Zheng one break point on another double fault and had her serve broken when she offered up back-to-back doubles.

Zheng, whose best finish here had been the third-round finish in 2008, said her reward for upsetting Sharapova would be a shopping trip to the outlet mall at Cabazon on Monday. Shoes and purses are on the to-buy list.

She also said that when Sharapova called for the trainer in the third set, it was a good thing for her. "I was so tired," Zheng said. "She called the trainer and I think, ‘Oh, good chance for me to rest.' "

Sharapova has no special solutions to correcting whatever is wrong.

"Go back out there and keep working," she said. "There's no secret formula to anything."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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