Tennis

Sharapova stuns defending champion Wozniacki

Maria Sharapova stunned defending champion Caroline Wozniacki to sweep into the Australian Open last 16 on Friday and join Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who clinically disposed of their opponents.

The five-time Grand Slam winner, who has struggled since returning from a drugs ban in 2017, was at full throttle in ending the Dane’s dream of a second Major title.

Sharapova won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena and will next play in-form local hope Ashleigh Barty, who bounced Greece’s Maria Sakkari, for a berth in the quarter-finals.

“I thought the level was quite high. I knew it would be a tough match,” said the 2008 champion, who has been in sizzling form at the tournament as she chases her first Slam title since Roland Garros in 2014.

“These types of matches are what I train for and it was really rewarding to win that last point,” added the 30th seed.

Second seed Nadal called young Australian Alex de Minaur “one of the best in the world” ahead of their evening clash, then proceeded to hand him a tennis lesson, dismantling the teenager 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

“I hit a good serve and played a solid game,” said the 2009 champion who is searching for an 18th Grand Slam title.

He paid tribute to de Minaur, who saved six match-points.

“He’s a big fighter and super quick. Alex has an amazing future.”

Nadal’s reward is a meeting with Tomas Berdych, who rallied to beat Argentine 18th seed Diego Schwartzman 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The Czech veteran reached the semi-finals in 2014 and 2015, but is unseeded this year as he returns from a back injury that almost forced his retirement last year.

Swiss great Federer was also on fire in taming big-serving American Taylor Fritz 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to stay on track for a third successive title at Melbourne Park and a 21st Grand Slam crown.

On a rain-affected day that delayed play on outside courts, the 37-year-old showed no mercy to the 21-year-old in his 100th match on the centre court in Melbourne.

“I had a really good feeling out here today against someone who can be dangerous,” said Federer after reaching the Melbourne fourth round for the 17th time – more than anyone else ever.

“Taylor played really well. He is going to have many more years on tour playing at this level.”

The double defending champion is gunning for a record seventh Australian title. If he goes on to win the tournament, he will become the first man ever to claim seven or more crowns at two Slams, having already won eight Wimbledons.

Next up for him is fiery Greek 14th seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Georgia’s 19th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4.

The man who lost to Federer in the final last year, Marin Cilic, battled back from two sets down, surviving two match-points to beat Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in a 4hr 18min epic.

'My brand of tennis'

Barty beat Greece’s Sakkari 7-5, 6-1, with the 15th seed yet to drop a set in her best performance at Melbourne Park.

She has won seven of eight matches this month to back up a title victory in Zhuhai late last year to shape up as a dangerous opponent for Sharapova.

“It’s getting to the point now where I’m feeling more and more comfortable on the court and can play my brand of tennis, which when I execute I know it works against the best in the world,” said a confident Barty.

No Australian woman has won the season-opening Grand Slam at Melbourne Park since Christine O’Neill in 1978.

Germany’s second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 title winner, steamrolled Australian youngster Kimberley Birrell 6-1, 6-0 as the Wimbledon champion continued her under-the-radar progress.

Meanwhile, unseeded American Amanda Anisimova continued her dream run, ousting 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets. The 17-year-old will play eighth seed Petra Kvitova for a place in the quarter-finals.

Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also advanced, crushing Aliaksandra Sasnovich for a showdown with fifth seed Sloane Stephens. – AFP

Maria SharapovaCaroline Wozniackiaustralian open