Maria Sharapova said she wanted to play Grand Slam champions to see where she was — but when she got a look on Saturday in Melbourne, she didn’t particularly like the results.
The Russian was smoked 6-1, 6-3 by an in-form No. 21 seed and fellow former No. 1 Angie Kerber. The German is 12-0 this year if you count the Hopman Cup exhibition and claiming her first WTA title of the year at Sydney.
“I’m just so happy it’s 2018 and not 2017 anymore,” said Kerber, seeded No. 21 after a disastrous 2017 campaign. “I learnt a lot from the last 24 months. Everybody who knows me knows I never give up, I always come back.”
Sharapova could not gain any momentum during the match between spraying errors and hitting doubles faults at key points.
“There’s a lot of things I need to improve on,” the Russian said afterwards. “As I said, this is a process. It’s a lot of things that take time. To be able to get these matches, players that are playing this well, I’m going to face a lot of them this year. I’ll have to bring it. Today was not enough.”
Kerber in the fourth round will face Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh. The former No. 1-ranked doubles player continued her miraculous run in Melbourne, upsetting No. 26 Aggie Radwanska, who appeared to be battling a knee injury, 6-2, 7-5.
“It is always hard closing out a final game like that against a great player,” said Hsieh, who earlier in the week upset Garbine Muguruza. “This is amazing for me to be back in the fourth round after 10 years.”
All three Top 10 seeds in action Saturday advanced into the fourth round, but none via the easy route.
No. 1 Simona Halep defeated unseeded American Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13, at one point fighting off triple match point; No. 6 Karolina Pliskova won the all-Czech battle with No. 29 Lucie Safarova 7-6(6), 7-5; and No. 8 Caroline Garcia ground past Belarus’ Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
Davis lost a toenail during the almost-four-hour loss to Halep that left both players gassed.
“Was very tough match,” Halep said after the 15-13 third set. “So long. I never played a third set so long. So I’m really happy that I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead. I have no idea how much I run, I just know that my muscles are gone. My ankle…I can’t feel it any more. But it was nice to win and to again be in the fourth round of this tournament is great.”
Halep’s next opponent will be Japan’s rising star Naomi Osaka, who upset No. 18 Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2, and it remains to be seen if Halep can recover in time to deal with Osaka’s firepower.
“I feel really happy, but also kind of sorry, because I know you guys really wanted her to win,” Osaka told the Melbourne crowd after eliminating the Aussie Barty. “So just thank you very much because I’ve never played in an atmosphere like this. I’ve always wanted to play against an Australian player, because on TV it always seems really cool.”
Pliskova in the fourth round will again meet a Czech countrywoman, this time No. 20 Barbora Strycova who defeated unseeded American Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-2. Garcia will need to recover from her three-setter to face No. 17 seed Madison Keys, who was a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Ana Bogdan.
Sunday in Melbourne will see fourth round matches (32) Anett Kontaveit vs. Carla Suarez Navarro, (2) Caroline Wozniacki vs. (19) Magdalena Rybarikova, (4) Elina Svitolina vs. Denisa Allertova, and Petra Martic vs. Elise Mertens.
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