No.21 seed Angelique Kerber rolled past Maria Sharapova with the loss of just four games in a marquee clash between two major champions to cap the first week at the Australian Open.
WTA Staff
January 20, 2018

MELBOURNE, Australia - In a match of the last two Grand Slam champions remaining in the draw, it was 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber who defeated 2008 winner Maria Sharapova to reach the fourth round at this year's tournament, 6-1, 6-3.

Though they had not played in nearly three years, Kerber came out firing in the clash of two former World No.1s. 

The last three head-to-head matches between the two went the distance, but it was Kerber who hardly put a foot wrong for the entirety of the 64-minute clash on Rod Laver Arena.

As it happened: Kerber cruises past Sharapova to reach Round 4 in Melbourne

"I knew before that it will be a tough match. I was trying to starting from the first point to being aggressive, but also staying really focused on my game, playing every single point," Kerber said after the match. "I mean, I know Maria is always fighting. After the first set, I was trying to not thinking about the score, just going for it, trying to being aggressive and playing actually my game.

"And it works. It works from the beginning. Yeah, I'm happy about how I played tonight. I was really trying to not thinking about everything around and everything about the match, about against who I'm playing. I was just more trying to going out on the special court for me and playing, again, good tennis."

The German No.2 never trailed in the match, and set the tone early as broke and held with the loss of just two points to take an early 2-0 lead.

Precise counterpunching with aggressive intent regularly left Sharapova on the back foot in the opener, as Kerber struck eight winners to just two unforced errors over the first seven games.

Two more breaks left Sharapova reeling, as Kerber ran off the last four games of the set to pocket a one-set advantage. The German won double the points to her Russian opponent (29 to 13), as Sharapova struck 11 unforced errors against Kerber's elite defending in the opener.

"I don't want to take anything away from her and the way she played. I think she played extremely well. She was the more aggressive player. She took a lot more risk than I did," Sharapova said in defeat. "In the first set, I didn't return well. I gave her the confidence by making a lot of errors on the return games. I think with that, she played extremely well."

The 2008 champion found better form in the second set as Kerber's level dropped a touch, evident in third game as Sharapova finally earned break point after Kerber's streak of games won extended to six.

After building a 0-40 lead, Sharapova needed her third chance to get back on serve, and later held a break point in a crucial seventh game which would've seen her take her first lead of the match.

However, Kerber averted danger, and skipped through to victory by virtue of winning the final three games of the match.

"She's a confident player at the moment," Sharapova added. "A lot of things were going her way throughout the match. The one little opportunity I had in the second set, I didn't take, I made an error. Sometimes, that's all it takes."

When all was said and done, Kerber tallied a tidy 12 winners and seven unforced errors in the match, while Sharapova's margin of 15 winners to 26 unforced errors proved too great to overcome.

Though the 2016 champion served at just over 60% for the match, she was dominant when she landed her swinging, lefty first serve, and won 86% of the points played behind it. 

By virtue of getting nearly 90% of returns in play, Kerber found herself involved in almost every Sharapova service game and broke a total of five times in the match.

The Russian didn't clear the 50% mark on points won on serve overall, and managed to win just 38% behind her first serve, and 47% on her second. 

"I think just enjoying my tennis, fighting until every single ball, not thinking too much what's happening around [me], against who I'm playing, all the things which are beside the court."
Angelique Kerber

Kerber improves her official record this season to 8-0, after winning the Sydney International. However, the German has won all 12 singles matches she's contested this year after debuting at the Hopman Cup.

"I decide to playing Hopman Cup already like few months ago because I never played it, and I really wanted to play with Sascha together," she said. "I knew that I had, for sure, three matches [there]. That was actually why I decide to start with the Hopman Cup and then Sydney, where I know it's a tournament. It's a little bit different than to the Hopman Cup matches.

"I knew that I need a lot of matches because last year I didn't have too many matches. I know if I have lot of matches where I can take my confidence from, coming to a Grand Slam, actually that was the plan."

After dispatching a power-hitter in Sharapova, Kerber will next face a crafty specialist in Hsieh Su-wei, who upset No.26 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2, 7-5 to reach the second week in Melbourne for the first time in 10 years.