MELBOURNE: The experienced Maria Sharapova slapped down young pretender Eugenie Bouchard Tuesday, dominating the ambitious Canadian to set up an all-Russian Australian Open semi-final with dark horse Ekaterina Makarova.
The world number two, who could claim the top ranking from arch rival Serena Williams if she wins the title, showed her intent by breaking the seventh seed in the first game of the match and never looked back.
Billed as a Glam Slam showdown between two of the game’s most marketable women, an intense Sharapova was all business in the crushing 6-3, 6-2 win on a cool, overcast Melbourne day.
“She’s been playing so well at Slams, so confident and so aggressive,” said the Russian, gunning for a sixth Grand Slam crown and her first in Australia since 2008.
“I just really tried to take that away from her a little bit. I did a great job of that today.”
She now faces Makarova, who raced through her match against third seed Simona Halep, thrashing the more-fancied Romanian 6-4, 6-0.
The 26 year old has made the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park twice previously but never before advanced to the semis in seven attempts.
“I love it, it’s a great feeling that I came through,” said Makarova.
In the other women’s quarter finals, to be played Wednesday, top seed Serena Williams meets last year’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova while her sister Venus takes on teenage American Madison Keys.
If the Williams sisters both win, they will face each other across the net at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2009 Wimbledon final, which Serena won.
Among the men, third seed and 14 time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal is looking to extend his superiority over Tomas Berdych in their last eight showdown later Tuesday.
The Spaniard has an imposing 18-3 record over the seventh seeded Czech, winning the last 17 encounters, but insists they both start from scratch on Rod Laver Arena.
British sixth seed Andy Murray will have the home crowd against him when he takes on mercurial 19 year old local Nick Kyrgios in the other last eight clash.
Murray, a two-time Grand Slam champion but luckless in Melbourne in three losing finals, said in a column for The Age newspaper Tuesday that he was experienced enough to handle the situation.
Instead, he feels the pressure will be on Kyrgios with the home crowd baying for an upset.
“I’ve been through that for 10 years at Wimbledon it’s something you have to learn how to deal with,” he said of the home expectations.
– Stressed out –
Sharapova, who also dumped Bouchard from the French Open semi-finals last year, gave no quarter on Rod Laver Arena, hitting 18 winners and forcing 30 unforced errors from the 20 year old.
“The first two or three balls are so aggressive from her side,” Sharapova said. “I just tried to keep my ground, I knew she was going to go at it and be aggressive.”
Makarova, her right thigh heavily strapped, said she was trying to stay grounded and not let expectations get to her with Sharapova looming.
“I need to believe in myself. I’m trying not to really think that it’s semis, that I’m one step from the final, but that it’s just a normal match like always,” she said.
“Just go out there and enjoy my game.”
Halep came into the match as favourite but her trademark fighting qualities deserted her, with the talented 23-year-old saying she felt stressed by the occasion.
“I practised very well in the morning, but I was a little bit too stressed before I started the match,” she said.
“It was not really pressure, just a little bit stressed. I don’t know why,” she said.