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Kerber turns up heat but Ice Queen still chilled to the bone

THE air in the media room at Wimbledon is as chilled as Tony Bennett on a Valium drip.

DEJECTED: Maria Sharapova bows her head after losing her fourth-round match in three sets against Angelique Kerber.  Picture: Al Bello/Getty Images
DEJECTED: Maria Sharapova bows her head after losing her fourth-round match in three sets against Angelique Kerber. Picture: Al Bello/Getty Images

It is so cold that both Rafael Nadal, the world No.1, and Simona Halep, the world No.3 have complained ever so gently they had never been quite so frozen after playing a match. They apparently have never played in the Saltcoats Glasgow Fair Classic.

The temperature dropped, though, to levels only found in a Siberian winter when the Ice Queen of Russia strolled in. Maria Sharapova, the French Open champion, had just lost to Angelique Kerber, of Germany.

Sharapova would not enjoy a press conference marking a grand slam of grand slams in the week she also won the rollover in the Euro millions lottery. Kerber's 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 victory was thus not expected to presage the advent of Sharapova wearing a happy face and displaying jazz hands.

She did not disappoint. Ten years after her only Wimbledon title, the 27-year-old had been spared a meeting with her nemesis after Serena Williams had departed on Saturday. Indeed, this was the first time in eight years that neither of the Williams sisters were in the second week.

Sharapova was entitled to feel that the 26-year-old German represented a reasonable opportunity at finding a berth in the quarter-finals. However, grand slams on the women's side of tennis are unpredictable. This will be the fourth consecutive year that the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon will have different winners.

This is not down to any lack of effort on behalf of the 2014 French Open winner. Sharapova screamed, she ran, she saved six match points, but she lost. And it hurt as only it can for someone who had devoted her life to winning since she started playing at four years of age.

She was honest about her expectations. "I always consider myself one of the favourites because I've won grand slams before, been No.1 in the world. It's absolutely normal for people to have high expectations of me doing well in grand slam stages. I certainly do."

There was a distinct chilliness, though, when the conversation turned to her boyfriend's match with Andy Murray in the quarter-finals of the men's singles today. "I haven't had a chance to think about that as I just finished my match 30 minutes ago," she said when asked whether Grigor Dimitrov could rely on her support from the player's box. She then made an aside about lack of originality when she learned someone else was primed for, but did not ask, a similar question.

But what did she expect? Someone who profits from celebrity must be ready to face celebrity questions. The question of whether she will park her posterior on Centre Court may not be presenting today's intellectual struggle for Noam Chomsky but it is a valid inquiry. She then told a questioner: "You can smile more often, by the way." This was said without irony.

The tournament, however, is over for the Russian as a player, whatever plans she may intend to make as a spectator. Her departure may be a heavy personal disappointment, but it sets up a hugely intriguing end to the tournament.

Kerber will now play Eugenie Bouchard, of Canada, in a fascinating quarter-final. "It will be a tough one. I lost against her in Paris, but I'm feeling right now better and I'm feeling better on grass. I never played against her on this surface, so I will be focused like today just on myself," said the German. Bouchard, the 20-year-old Canadian, remain the best impersonator of Sharapova in terms of will to win and this should be a marvellous match.

Other victors yesterday included Lucie Safarova, of the Czech Republic, who defeated Ekaterina Makarova, of Russia, 6-3, 6-1 and the highly impressive Simona Halep, runner up to Sharapova in the French Open, who dismissed Zarina Diyas, of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-0.

The tournament continues too for Sabine Lisicki, who defeated Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. The 24-year-old German is more known for a meltdown rather than coolness. She froze when losing the final last year to Marion Bartoli. She walked into a different line of questioning.

"You have the most heartwarming smile of all the tennis players," was the merciless inquiry directed at her.

"Thank you," she replied.

It is this sort of exchange that make the press room seem suddenly heated to a level that induces a certain queasiness.

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