MELBOURNE, Australia - Two days after scrapping through a three-hour, 28-minute thriller in the second round, Maria Sharapova looked much sharper in the third round of the Australian Open, fighting off a set point in the second set and closing out talented Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, 61 76(6).
Against Karin Knapp in the last round, Sharapova fought through all kinds of negative numbers - 34 winners, 67 unforced errors - in the longest match of the tournament. But with the No.25-seeded Cornet there was only drama at the end, as the No.3-seeded Russian missed a match point at 5-3 in the second set and had to fend off a set point down 6-5 in the tie-break - but she closed fast.
"Of course everyone that played a long match in those conditions is going to feel physically and emotionally tired, but you have to find a way to get through it," Sharapova said. "That's what I did.
"It was quite tough in the end today. She had a set point and a chance to level the match out. And I probably wouldn't want to go to a third set. So I was happy that I was able to finish it off in two."
Sharapova's numbers on the match were tidier this time, too - 35 winners, 35 unforced errors.
"I think I can take a few positives from this match. One being the fact that I was able to win it not playing my best tennis. There are definitely things I'm going to have to improve and do better moving forward, because it's only going to get tougher, but I'm happy I took my chances out there today."
It didn't take long for Sharapova to work on things - she hit the practice courts right after the match.
"I just didn't have a great rhythm. It's sometimes nice to come off the court and groove, just get a good hit on the ball. The conditions were a little bit tricky from one end, and the balls were flying a bit.
"I just wanted to get a good rhythm again."
Waiting in the fourth round is No.20 seed Dominika Cibulkova, who needed just 59 minutes to cruise past No.16 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, 61 60. Cibulkova was in control of the match from start to finish, hitting 10 times as many winners in the match as her shellshocked Spanish opponent - 20 to 2.
Sharapova leads Cibulkova in their head-to-head series, 3-2, which includes 1-1 at Grand Slams - Cibulkova won in the 2009 French Open quarterfinals, Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinals.
"It's going to be a very physical match," Sharapova said. "She's a great retriever of the ball. She likes to make it physical. That's when she plays her best. Obviously I don't want to go there with her!
"But she's a tough opponent. That's for sure. She plays a lot of top players extremely well and tough and has nothing to lose, so I'll have to be ready - I'm expecting a tough one in the next round."