PARIS, France, May 31- Maria Sharapova showcased plenty of her famous grit to reach the French Open quarter-finals on Monday, edging Polish 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 in a tight contest.
She was joined in the last eight by Belarusian fourth seed Victoria Azarenka, the top-ranked player left in the draw, who beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-3 to set up a clash with Chinese sixth seed Li Na.
Russian seventh seed Sharapova, a three-time Grand Slam champion, had to fight back from 4-1 down in the first set and survived five set points in the second en route to victory against the obdurate Radwanska.
"From the beginning, I had quite a slow start today," said Sharapova.
"It gave me confidence and gave me a chance to be up in the second set.
"She had so many chances. It was really tough but I played smart when I had to be smart and I was patient."
She will now meet Andrea Petkovic for a place in the semi-finals, after the German 15th seed overcame Sharapova’s 25th-seeded countrywoman Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.
The 24-year-old Sharapova, who hit back from a set and 4-1 down against French 17-year-old Caroline Garcia in round two, hit 47 winners and made 44 unforced errors in a performance full of contrasts.
The former world number one was 4-1 and 40-15 down in the opening set on Court Philippe Chatrier before battling back to take the first set in a tie-break.
She then fell 5-3 down in the second, but held her nerve to see off five set points — two at 5-3 and three at 5-4 — before sealing victory on her first match point when a tense rally culminated with a wide backhand from Radwanska.
Azarenka, the top-seeded remaining player after Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva were eliminated, encountered few problems against the unseeded Makarova on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
She now faces Li, who had earlier become the first player from China to reach the Roland Garros quarter-finals with a disjointed 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 defeat of 21-year-old Czech ninth seed Petra Kvitova.
Despite her superior seeding, Azarenka has beaten Li just once in four attempts — most recently losing in the last 16 at the Australian Open — and has never gone beyond the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam.
"I’m in a different chapter of my career," said Azarenka.
"It’s going to be a different quarter-final for me. But I’m feeling really confident and I’m really looking forward to it."
Li became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, but she had to battle back from 3-0 down in the final set to overcome Kvitova in an error-strewn match.
Li, who made 19 unforced errors to her opponent’s 33, makes no secret of her unease on the dirt but said her lack of claycourt pedigree should not prevent her from aiming high.
"If I win in the fourth round, what should I say?" asked Li, who has now reached the last eight at all four Grand Slams.
"(That) I played bad tennis? I don’t think so. I’ve tried to keep the same level as Melbourne, or even better.
"I didn’t like claycourts, but I’m still in the quarter-finals."
Petkovic’s victory over Kirilenko, meanwhile, means she has equalled her best ever Grand Slam showing, after reaching the quarter-finals of a major for the first time at the Australian Open earlier this year.