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Hope burns brightly for Sharapova after Serena exit

(Reuters) - It is not something Maria Sharapova would confess to publicly, but Serena Williams's early downfall at the French Open means the statuesque Russian can now skip around Paris with an extra spring in her step.

While Williams' unexpected second-round exit has offered a spark of hope to the 50 women still left standing in Roland Garros, nowhere was that hope burning brighter than in the Sharapova camp on Wednesday.

As Sharapova's 13-million plus followers on Facebook are aware, beating the younger of the Williams sisters has proved to be the one obstacle that has been insurmountable for the 27-year-old.

It has been 10 long years since Sharapova has beaten her American rival and since that joyful day in Los Angeles in 2004, the former world number one has slumped to 15 successive defeats, including in the French Open final last year.

"You always have to follow your path and always concentrate on your work and who's ahead of you and not get worried about what's going on," Sharapova said after she reached the third round with a 7‑5 6‑2 win over Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova.

"Obviously when you go on court you're aware of a lot of the upsets, not just in the women but in the men, as well.

"So it's great to get a win in that type of atmosphere."

Williams' demise carried extra significance for Sharapova as the 2012 Roland Garros champion had been on a quarter-final collision course with the American.

Instead of worrying and fretting over that possible showdown, Sharapova may now consider sending little-known Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, the conqueror of Williams, a thank-you note if she is to lift the French Open trophy for the second time in three years on June 7.

(Writing by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Mark Meadows)

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