BEIJING, China - The Top 2 players in the world moved into the quarterfinals of the China Open on Thursday afternoon, both scoring straight set wins over dangerous qualifiers in the third round of the Premier Mandatory event.
World No.2 Maria Sharapova was the first to advance, winning the first eight games of her match against Polona Hercog then, after the Slovenian qualifier snuck two games to close to 60 22, reeling off four more games to win, 60 62.
"I had a long first round match, but today and yesterday were definitely a little bit quicker," Sharapova commented. "I played really well in the beginning and got a bit tense in the second set, but I felt like I really needed that challenge.
"It wasn't easy. I was up a set and a break and played a couple of loose points, and then all of a sudden my opponent started feeling better and more confident. But when you have a letdown, you just have to recover as fast as you can."
A day earlier, Hercog came back from 5-1 down in the third set to defeat Ekaterina Makarova in the Russian's first tournament as a Top 20 player.
The China Open is a combined men's-and-women's tournament, and Sharapova was asked in her post-match press conference about the combined dynamic - and apparently her focus off of the court is as exceptional as on it.
"I'm not the social type in the players' lounge," Sharapova said. "I do my job and honestly sometimes I don't know who's playing and who's not. The tournament for me is when I have an opponent to face, I get ready for that match and play.
"After this I'll eat something and be back in my hotel, not knowing what's going on later today. I'll probably see the result of who my next opponent is. But as far as focusing on what's going on around and who's talking with who, I don't know."
World No.1 Victoria Azarenka had a tougher day but still won in straights, beating Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina, 63 63. Azarenka was never behind in the match but needed an hour and 32 minutes to close it out, punctuated by a marathon six deuce final game, finishing it off on her third match point.
"I didn't expect her to be that aggressive - she's always trying to take control, but she was really going for every shot," Azarenka said. "She was pretty successful. I have to say it was quite challenging in a few rallies to turn it around and be aggressive, be demanding, be controlling - it was a challenge for sure.
"I really wanted to win it - I had a few match points and really couldn't convert them. So when I won that last point, I was relieved to finish in two sets."
Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time either Azarenka or Sharapova has reached the quarterfinals in Beijing since it became a Premier Mandatory event in 2009 - Azarenka went out in the early rounds in 2009, 2010 and 2011, while Sharapova fell early in 2009 and 2010 and missed the event injured in 2011.