MELBOURNE: Maria Sharapova stunned defending champion Caroline Wozniacki to sweep into the Australian Open last-16 Friday and join ice men Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who clinically disposed of their opponents.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner, who has struggled since returning from a drugs ban in 2017, was at full throttle in ending the Dane’s dream of a second major title.
Sharapova won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena and will next play in-form local hope Ashleigh Barty, who bounced Greece’s Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-1, for a berth in the quarter-finals.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew it would be a tough match,” said the 2008 champion, who has been in sizzling form at the tournament as she chases her first Slam title since Roland Garros in 2014. “These types of matches are what I train for and it was really rewarding to win that last point.”
Second seed Nadal called young Australian Alex de Minaur “one of the best in the world” ahead of their evening clash, then proceeded to hand him a tennis lesson, dismantling the teenager 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“I hit a good serve and played a solid game,” said the 2009 champion who is searching for an 18th Grand Slam title.
Nadal’s reward is a meeting with Tomas Berdych, who rallied to beat Argentine 18th seed Diego Schwartzman 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
The Czech veteran reached the semi-finals in 2014 and 2015 but is unseeded this year as he returns from a back injury that almost forced his retirement last year.
Swiss great Federer, seeking a third consecutive title in Melbourne, dismissed 21-year-old Taylor Fritz of the U.S. 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 and now takes on 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who eliminated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4.
“We all want them to win all the big stuff, but it just takes time,” Federer said about the newest generation of challengers. “I’m still giving them a hard time, sometimes.”
Also advancing was the man Federer beat in last year’s final, Marin Cilic. He overcame two match points opponent Fernando Verdasco double-faulted one of them away and erased a two-set hole to win 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (108), 6-3 in a contest that lasted more than four hours and ended just before 1 a.m.
Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, now faces 22nd seed Roberto Bautista-Agut, a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 winner against 10th seed Karen Khachanov.
Frances Tiafoe, an American who turns 21 on Sunday, got to the fourth round at a major for the first time by defeating Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Tiafoe now meets Bulgarian 20th seed Grigor Dimitrov, who is being coached by Andre Agassi.
Unseeded American Amanda Anisimova continued her dream run, ousting 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. The 17-year-old will play eighth seed Petra Kvitova, who beat Belinda Bencic 6-1, 6-4, for a place in the quarter-finals.
Another American woman, 35th-ranked Danielle Collins, joined Anisimova in earning a debut trip to the round of 16 at a major with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Caroline Garcia. Up next for Collins will be Germany’s second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 title winner who steamrolled Australian youngster Kimberley Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
On a rainy afternoon that saw the roofs closed on the three main courts, and play delayed on smaller arenas, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens beat Petra Martic 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5) and now meets Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.
Results (prefix number denotes seeding):
Men’s singles (third round): 6-Marin Cilic (Croatia) bt 26-Fernando Verdasco (Spain) 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3; 22-Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain) bt 10-Karen Khachanov (Russia) 6-4, 7-5, 6-4; 14-Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) bt 19-Nikoloz Basilashvili (Georgia) 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4; 3-Roger Federer (Switzerland) bt Taylor Fritz (US) 6-2, 7-5, 6-2; Frances Tiafoe (US) bt Andreas Seppi (Italy) 6-7 (3/7), 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; 20-Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) bt Thomas Fabbiano (Italy) 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-4; Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) bt 18-Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4; 2-Rafael Nadal (Spain) bt 27-Alex De Minaur (Australia) 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Women’s singles (third round): 15-Ashleigh Barty (Australia) bt Maria Sakkari (Greece) 7-5, 6-1; Amanda Anisimova (US) bt 11-Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) 6-3, 6-2; Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (Belarus) 6-0, 6-3; 30-Maria Sharapova (Russia) bt 3-Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; 5-Sloane Stephens (US) bt 31-Petra Martic (Croatia) 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5); 8-Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) bt Belinda Bencic (Switzerland) 6-1, 6-4; Danielle Collins (US) bt 19-Caroline Garcia (France) 6-3, 6-2; 2-Angelique Kerber (Germany) bt Kimberly Birrell (Australia) 6-1, 6-0.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2019