Maria Sharapova scorched the Rod Laver Arena to eliminate defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 4-6 6-3 in the third round in Melbourne last night.
Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who won her last major at the 2014 French Open, hit 37 winners against 10 from her opponent and converted her second matchpoint to set up a fourth round clash against Australia number one Ashleigh Barty.
The resurgent former champion will meet Barty in a fourth-round blockbuster on Sunday having vanquished the Dane 6-4 4-6 6-3 in two hours and 24 minutes.
“Her story is phenomenal. She loves playing here and did extremely well in Sydney last week,” the 2008 winner said of Barty, who got past rising Greek Maria Sakkari 7-5 6-1 yesterday.
In an ominous third-round display, Sharapova smacked 37 winners to Wozniacki’s 10, 24 coming off her forehand wing.
The 31-year-old is playing her 15th Open and hopes to draw on that experience against the young Australian, who’ll be backed by raucous home fans.
“It’s going to be a tough crowd but I go out here to perform,” Sharapova said.
The Russian, who was hit with a two-year doping ban – later reduced to 15 months – for testing positive to banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, hasn’t won a major since her 2014 triumph at the French Open.
Seventeen-year-old Amanda Anisimova, meanwhile, became the youngest American to reach the fourth round of a major since Serena Williams at Roland Garros in 1998.
Anisimova, the youngest player left in the women’s draw, blew highly rated Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka off the court 6-3 6-2 in a little over an hour.
Sabalenka is the second seeded scalp in two matches for the 87th-ranked Anisimova, who swatted aside 24th seed Lesia Tsurenko in the second round.
Scrambling from side to side on the baseline, Anisimova produced one of the shots of the first week, with a loopy slice forehand at full stretch getting past Sabalenka and landing in the corner.
Anisimova could meet her idol Sharapova in the final eight, if the Russian topples Barty and she wins her next match against either No 8 seed Petra Kvitova or Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic.
“Maria is someone I look up to so much. She’s an amazing athlete,” Anisimova said.
Sabalenka was the second Belarusian to take a third-round tumble yesterday, with Aliaksandra Sasnovich losing 6-0 6-3 to Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in exactly an hour.
Fifth seed Sloane Stephens got past Croatian Petra Martic in two tight sets 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5).