MELBOURNE: World number five Maria Sharapova ground her way into an eighth Australian Open quarter-final Sunday, downing highly-rated Swiss teen Belinda Bencic after a titanic struggle.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion needed two hours, five minutes to get past the 12th seed 7-5, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena and set up a potential last-eight clash with arch-rival Serena Williams.
The world number one is on court later Sunday against Russian Margarita Gasparyan with a victory pitting her against Sharapova, whom she beat in last year’s final. She has won all their contests since 2004.
“These are the players that will ultimately take our spot,” she said of the talented Bencic. “But not just yet.”
“I was really focused today,” she added. “It’s always great to play against the players coming up for the first time.”
Bencic, the WTA’s highest ranked teenager, has gone from rising star to the real deal over the past year, having already claimed 10 top-10 wins in her career.
Coached by Melanie Molitor, mother of Martina Hingis, she won tournaments in Eastbourne and Toronto in a breakout 2015 and was a major hurdle for the Russian.
But Sharapova — the last teen to win a Grand Slam title, aged 19 at the 2006 US Open — has been in good touch at Melbourne Park, where she won in 2008, and ultimately her big-match experience proved decisive.