Paris, France – Maria Sharapova continued to dominate her early opposition at the French Open, while defending champion Li Na and reigning Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova each came away with tough wins on Saturday.
Former champ Francesca Schiavone, meanwhile, was shown an early exit as the third round of the year's second major championship began to wind down.
Sharapova needs only a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam and has simply rolled through the first three rounds. The second-seeded Russian had her toughest match to date on Saturday with a 6-2, 6-1 pasting of China's Peng Shuai.
It took a mere 66 minutes, but it was the longest time the three-time Grand Slam winner was on the court in the first week. Sharapova dispatched Alexandra Cadantu in a first-round double-bagel in 48 minutes, then dropped just two games in a 60-minute thumping of Ayumi Morita in the second round.
"I just see it as I played really good matches, beat great players," said Sharapova. "And I've got to keep moving forward and try to do that again."
Another unseeded player awaits Sharapova in the fourth round, as Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic dumped 22nd-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-3, 7-5, on Saturday.
It wasn't nearly as easy for Li or Kvitova.
Li, who beat Schiavone in last year's final at Roland Garros to become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam event, had to rally for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over American Christina McHale.
The fourth-seeded Kvitova also had to go the distance, claiming a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 triumph over Russian Nina Bratchikova. Next up for the Czech star will be American Varvara Lepchenko, who took out Schiavone, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6.
Schiavone became the first Italian woman to capture a Grand Slam title when she won the 2010 French Open and nearly repeated last year. She could have earned a rematch with Li in this year's quarterfinals, but ran into an opponent that had already given her trouble this year.
Lepchenko, a Uzbekistan-born resident of Allentown, Pennsylvania, beat Schiavone last month in the first round of the Madrid Open. Lepchenko also took out Jelena Jankovic in the second round this week and is in the midst of her best Grand Slam tournament. In 14 previous majors, Lepchenko had never been past the second round.
"It was two completely different matches when I played her in Madrid and here," said Lepchenko about facing Schiavone. "In Madrid, she was missing so much and making easy errors, and here she started out amazing. I was like, oh, now I know why she won a Grand Slam.
"I had to really pull it together and stay very aggressive and fight," she added. "Till the very end, I didn't know if I'm gonna win, but I kept believing in myself."
Li, meanwhile, struggled through the first set Saturday with 24 unforced errors. She quickly regrouped and committed just 20 for the remainder of the match. The Chinese star picked up an early break for a 3-1 lead in the third set and it proved too much for McHale, who failed to win another game.
"Tennis is the best of three sets," said Li. "In the first set, I always followed what she did. I changed a little bit in the beginning of the second set and [got her] to play my way."
The seventh-seeded Li will next meet Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova, who advanced Saturday with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.
Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki made another early exit at a major, as Estonia's Kaia Kanepi sent the ninth-seeded Dane home with a 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 defeat. It marked Wozniacki's second straight third-round setback at the French.
Wozniacki, despite finishing the 2010 and 2011 seasons as the top-ranked player, has never won a Grand Slam event. She reached one final, losing to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open, and her best result on the storied red clay of Paris was a quarterfinal in 2010.
Kanepi squandered a huge lead Saturday, and did so more than once. She held a 5-1 cushion in the second set and had a pair of match points. Wozniacki saved both and went on to win 14 straight points to get back into the match, but Kanepi won the 11th game after falling behind 0-40 and had another chance to serve it out, but failed and Wozniacki easily won the tiebreaker.
Again Kanepi built a 5-1 lead in the third set and watched Wozniacki win two straight games, but this time the 23rd seed finally finished it off and is in position to reach the quarterfinals for the second time at Roland Garros. She did so previously in 2008 and will vie for a spot in this year's round of 16 against Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands.
Rus advanced Saturday with a 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 6-2 win over Germany's Julia Goerges.
Fourth-round play begins Sunday with top-seeded Victoria Azarenka and 2009 French champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in action.
Azarenka will take on 15th-seeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, while Kuznetsova, coming off a third-round win over third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, will battle Italy's Sara Errani, who knocked out 2008 French winner Ana Ivanovic in the third round. Also, 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur will meet American Sloane Stephens and 10th-seeded German Angelique Kerber will square off against Croatia's Petra Martic.