MELBOURNE: World number five Maria Sharapova battled past petite Lauren Davis and into the Australian Open fourth round on Friday as she edges closer to another showdown with arch-rival Serena Williams.
The Russian fifth seed needed two hours, 14 minutes to see off the hard-working 103rd-ranked American 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-0 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena on a wet Melbourne day.
Sharapova’s 600th career win sets her up with a tough test next up against 12th seed Belinda Bencic, after the dangerous Swiss teen beat Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko.
“In a Grand Slam environment against anyone you can’t expect to get away with it, and I didn’t in the second set,” she said, of allowing Davis back into the match in the second set.
“But overall really happy with how I came out in the third and stepped up, considering it’s been, you know, many weeks since I’ve been in that position.
“So I was happy with the way I finished. I think I can take a lot of good things from that.”
If Sharapova gets past Bencic she faces a potential quarter-final with defending champion Williams, who has proved unshakeable in every match they have played since 2004.
Sharapova’s dismal record against the world number one was extended at Melbourne Park last year when the 21-time Grand Slam champion swept past Sharapova in the final.
To set up the mouth-watering showdown, she must get past the exciting Bencic, which won’t be easy with the Swiss winning two tournaments last year — including in Toronto, where she upset Williams.
“Yeah, an impressive player. A newer generation that’s already established herself in the past season, beaten a lot of top players,” Sharapova said of the 18-year-old, a product of the tennis school run Martina Hingis’ mother Melanie Molitor.
“It’s a tough fourth round. We haven’t played against each other before, but I’m sure we’ll be playing many times. It’s great that we can start here.”