Melbourne: Angelique Kerber roared out of the blocks and ruthlessly crushed Maria Sharapova in a battle of former champions at the Australian Open on Saturday. The 2016 winner sped into a 4-1 first set lead with a display of effervescent hitting in their hotly-anticipated third-round encounter. Sharapova, the Melbourne Park champion here 10 years ago, was sent packing in just 64 minutes as a resurgent 21st seed dismantled her 6-1, 6-3. “I was just trying to enjoy every point,” said Kerber after ending unseeded Sharapova’s run in only her second Grand Slam tournament back since serving a 15-month doping ban.
The mouth-watering match-up of the only the two Australian Open winners — and Grand Slam champions — left in the women’s draw got top billing on Rod Laver Arena but was turned into a tennis exhibition by Kerber. “I have so many good memories on this court,” said Kerber, who won her first Grand Slam title there two years ago when she beat Serena Williams in the final. “I knew before that it will be a tough match. I was trying from the first point to be aggressive, but also staying really focused on my game, playing every single point.
“After the first set, I was trying to not think about the score, just going for it.”
The Russian, like Kerber a former number one, reached the semifinals in Shenzhen to start the year by getting back into the top 50, but the German’s form has been outstanding heading into the year’s first major.
Kerber enjoyed an unbeaten singles campaign in the Hopman Cup, won in Sydney to get back into the top 20 after a torrid 2017 and surrendered only nine games in the first two rounds in Melbourne.
‘She took risks’ –
“I think she plays extremely well when she has a lot of matches behind her back,” said Sharapova of Kerber.
“I’ve always thought she’s a confidence player, as well. I thought she played very aggressive. She took risks, and it worked today.”
The pair had played each other on seven occasions before Saturday, with Kerber edging the series 4-3 including their previous two meetings, the last of which came on the Stuttgart clay in 2015. — AFP