Tennis

Sharapova crushes Pliskova to set up Williams date

Maria Sharapova set up a last-16 clash with Serena Williams by crushing sixth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1 in the French Open third round on Saturday.

The five-time Grand Slam champion produced one of her best performances since returning from a doping ban, cruising to a totally one-sided win in her first match on Court Philippe Chatrier for three years.

“I knew I had to play well against a tough opponent. I managed to stay aggressive and I played smart as well,” said Sharapova, who delighted a half-full Chatrier by thanking them for their support in French.

The Russian, winner in Paris in 2012 and 2014, is seeded at a Major for the first time since testing positive for meldonium two years ago.

A fired-up Sharapova powered 18 winners past her fellow former world No. 1 Pliskova, with the Czech never threatening any resistance in a match which lasted just 59 minutes.

In the fourth round, she will face 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams, who beat German 11th seed Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-4.

Sharapova and Serena have met 21 times, with the American leading the head-to-head record 19-2 after 18 consecutive wins dating back to 2004.

Sharapova had struggled on serve in her opening wins over Richel Hogenkamp and Donna Vekic, and she was broken in the very first game of the match.

But the Russian, now world No. 30, utterly dominated the rest of the match against her passive opponent.

She showed guile as well as power too, bringing up match-point with a perfect backhand drop shot, perhaps sending a warning to Serena in the process.

MUGURUZA THROUGH

Earlier on Saturday, former champion Garbine Muguruza reached the French Open last 16 with a comfortable 6-0, 6-2 win over Australia’s Sam Stosur.

Spanish third seed Muguruza, the 2016 winner in Paris and the reigning Wimbledon champion, fired 15 winners past Stosur, the 34-year-old 2010 runner-up and former US Open champion.

After wrapping up the first set in just 25 minutes, Stosur only got on the board in the third game of the second.

“I knew this would be very tough against a former US Open winner and a player who has made the final here,” said 24-year-old Muguruza.

“If I didn’t play my best tennis, I realised that it would be very hard.

“Coming back here to Court Philippe Chatrier where I won two years ago always brings special feelings inside me.” The Spaniard goes on to face Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine who knocked out Slovakian 19th seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-4. – AFP

Maria Sharapova