Maria Sharapova scorched the Rod Laver Arena with her aggressive tennis to eliminate defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 4-6 6-3 in the third round on Friday.
Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who won her last major at the 2014 French Open, hit 37 winners against 10 from her opponent and converted her second matchpoint to set up a fourth round clash against Australia number one Ashleigh Barty.
Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008, headed into the match with a 6-4 lead in their previous meetings and went for her shots from the first point making it difficult for the third-ranked Dane with a game built on defence.
“I thought the level was quite high. She is the defending champion of this event and it’s no secret she loves this arena,” Sharapova said in a courtside interview.
“These are the types of matches I train for so it’s really rewarding to win that last point. I’m definitely not walking around thinking I have experience and think they’re just going to give it to me.”
Wozniacki had the first break but handed the advantage back with a double fault before the Russian 30th seed, who was suspended for 15 months for taking banned drug meldonium in 2016, won three consecutive games to take the set.
After a trade of breaks, Wozniacki took the match into a deciding set after a double fault from Sharapova gave her a set point which she converted to level the entertaining encounter on Rod Laver Arena at 1-1.
Sharapova shrieked in delight after converting her third breakpoint in the seventh game with a scorching forehand and broke Wozniacki again to seal the victory in two hours and 24 minutes.
Sharapova will brace for a hostile crowd in the fourth round when she takes on local hope Barty, who beat Greek Maria Sakkari 7-5 6-1.
“I think her story is phenomenal, she loves playing here,” Sharapova said of her next opponent. “I know it’s going to be a tough crowd but I go out here to perform and play tennis.”
Birthday girl Kerber completes Australian horror show
Birthday girl Angelique Kerber humiliated Australian wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1 6-0 to storm into the fourth round of the Australian Open on Friday and complete a late-night horror show for the locals at Rod Laver Arena.
Just after Rafa Nadal subjected Australian number one Alex de Minaur to a straight sets humbling, second seed Kerber pounded into Birrell like a freight train and sent the 240th-ranked 20-year-old packing after 58 scarring minutes.
Shell-shocked under the lights in front of a packed centre court crowd, Birrell simply had nowhere to hide as the former world number one celebrated her 31st birthday by pummelling her opponent.
Kerber has enjoyed a birthday serenade from friendly Melbourne crowds for a number of years, but after seeing Birrell eviscerated, the terraces were hardly in full voice.
The German was unconcerned by the crowd’s heartbreak.
“If you are there, you are professional,” she told reporters.
“You are trying to play your match, trying to focus on the tennis, on the way how you would like to play, and on winning the matches. I’m not thinking about something like this.”
German Kerber has enjoyed a rollicking start at the year’s first Grand Slam and has an excellent chance to reach her third quarter-final in Melbourne after claiming the 2016 title and reaching the semi-finals last year.
She will play unseeded American Danielle Collins for a place in the last eight where former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens might wait should the draw go with seedings.
“I think it will be another good match … I know her (Collins) a little bit. We played once I think last year.
“She hits the ball really hard and fast.
“It’s another match that I know that I have to take it in my hand, playing my game.”
US teen Amanda Anisimova announces arrival with Aryna Sabalenka upset
American teenager Amanda Anisimova upstaged 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka 6-3 6-2 to storm into the fourth round and signal the arrival of a new force in women’s tennis. The fearless 17-year-old bullied her much higher ranked opponent who looked shell-shocked by the power being generated at the other end of the court.
It was Anisimova’s third consecutive straight sets win, which included a 6-0 6-2 destruction of 24th seed Lesia Tsurenko. She will play the winner of Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic in the fourth round.
The youngest player in the draw said she wouldn’t mind being a teenage Grand Slam winner like one of the players she most looks up to, Sharapova. “I want to win this tournament right now,” the Miami teen said, when asked what she longed for.
Anisimova showed no nerves despite playing in only her third Grand Slam main draw, and not having previously gone past the first round.
She broke Sabalenka’s opening service game, and by the third game of the match the usually dominant Belarusian was glancing skywards as if wondering how her slightly-built opponent could punch like a heavyweight.
“Definitely, I was trying to be really aggressive today because she plays really aggressive too and we are both really big hitters,” the American said.
With youthful disregard for the consequences, Anisimova refused to take a backward step, half-volleying her opponent’s powerful shots when required.
Anisimova, ranked 87, might have a strong first serve and forehand, but it will be her double-fisted backhand that, should she fulfil her obvious potential, stood out.
On the backhand wing, she took the ball as early as anyone else on tour, yet always appeared balanced, and never rushed.
She treated Sabalenka’s strong first serve with disdain, by going for outright winners off the return.
Although that particular tactic had modest success – the American seemed unperturbed even after making several errors – it sent a not-too-subtle message that she was the one in control.
The eleventh seed’s muffled frustration became increasingly audible, and after getting out-hit on match point she whacked the ball into the stadium roof in angst, after missing out on an opportunity to advance to the last 16. The victor blew kisses to the crowd.
Ashleigh Barty party continues with Maria Sakkari win
Ashleigh Barty eased past Greek Maria Sakkari 7-5 6-1 to advance to the fourth round, keeping alive local hopes of a home women’s champion. Australians have had limited success in the tournament despite boasting several Grand Slam singles champions like Samantha Stosur, Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter since the 1990s.
No Australian man or woman has won the singles title at their home Grand Slam since the 1970s. The last women’s finalist was Wendy Turnbull in 1980, while Hewitt lost the 2005 final to Russia’s Marat Safin.
The 15th-seeded Barty arrived in Melbourne after a final appearance at the Sydney international, where she also beat world number one Simona Halep, and has looked untroubled in the year’s first Grand Slam.
The 22-year-old has looked in control and was yet to lose a set in the ongoing tournament.
Under a closed roof at the Rod Laver Arena due to morning showers, Barty broke Sakkari twice in each set to seal the win in an hour and 22 minutes.
Barty, who has also played elite-level cricket, served 13 aces without a double-fault and matched her best Grand Slam showing after reaching the last 16 stage at the 2018 U.S. Open.
“You have to keep giving yourself the opportunity to do better and better,” she told reporters. “It’s all trusting in the process and the work that my team and myself has done in the preseason, and throughout the last 18 months, two years.
“We’re continuing to chip away every single day and get better as a person and as a player every single day and continue to develop my game.
“It’s getting to the point now where I’m feeling more and more comfortable on the court and can play my brand of tennis, which when I execute I know it works against the best in the world.”
Melbourne is home to the largest population of Greeks outside their country and they turned out in large numbers, singing and chanting for Sakkari throughout the match.
World number 43 Sakkari, who has now reached the third round at all four Grand Slams, started aggressively but could not match Barty’s consistency or shotmaking with the Australian hitting 24 winners against nine from her opponent.
Barty, who took a cautionary medical timeout at the end of the first set, will come up against Sharapova.
She might catch the match on TV but only if the third cricket one-day international between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was not on due to the rain.
“It’s another opportunity for me to go out and test myself against the world’s best,” she said. “I know they play later this afternoon. I’ll be home if it does happen to be raining and the cricket is not on, I will flick it over to that.”
“No, look, it’s another opportunity. Whoever wins that match, obviously they are both quality champions. It’s just an opportunity for me to go and test myself against the best.”