MELBOURNE, Australia - Former champion Maria Sharapova is through to the third round at the Australian Open after taking down No.14 seed Anastasija Sevastova in straight sets.
The Russian played a nearly flawless first set before Sevastova made things complicated in the second, but Sharapova prevailed 6-1, 7-6(2) after an hour and 23 minutes.
“She never really lets up,” Sharapova praised her opponent during her post-match press conference. She gets a lot of balls back. That's something that I had trouble with in the previous matches that I played against her.
“I was really happy with how aggressive I was. I was consistent but I was looking to come forward. I played really well at the net, finished the balls off with a swing volley or good volley. Something I've been working on, and definitely improved in the match today.
“A little dicey in the second set, to say the least, but I got through it. I did the job in two, and that's not something I did towards the end of last year. I think that's an improvement.”
The pair came into the matchup after splitting their previous two matches in 2017 - the Latvian stunned Sharapova in the fourth round of last year's US Open, battling back from a set down to advance 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, before Sharapova got her revenge in an even closer encounter in Beijing, winning 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-6(7).
Sharapova bucked the trend by snatching up the one-sided opening set in commanding fashion. With temperatures soaring in Melbourne Park and the Heat Rule in effect, Sharapova made quick work of Sevastova, taking the first set in just 23 minutes.
She put in an almost perfect performance off the serve, winning 100% of first serve points and six of eight on her second serve, and her attacking game left Sevastova out of the rallies. The Russian reeled off the last five games in a row to comfortably wrap up the opening set, and kept it going in the second, opening with a break to the good.
But Sevastova’s game seemed to finally click into gear and she found her tricky, variable game to jam Sharapova’s power tennis. She broke straight back to erase Sharapova’s lead, and stayed toe to toe with the Russian for the rest of the set.
"Walking through that tunnel is extremely special...it gives me the motivation that I can do it again."
Ten years on from her only #AusOpen title, @MariaSharapova is looking for a second.#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/Df86eFOJ76
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2018
Sevastova raised her level at the crucial moment, breaking Sharapova right as the 2008 champion was serving for the match at 5-4. It seemed history was set to repeat itself as the pair marched into a tiebreaker, but Sharapova wasn’t keen on going to three sets. She overpowered Sevastova in the tiebreak, reeling off five points in a row to bring up match point before closing it out on the third time of asking.
Into the third round for the eleventh time in her career, Sharapova will take on the winner between No.21 seed Angelique Kerber and Donna Vekic.
“I'm around 50 in the world at this point, so I know I'm going to be facing seeded players, first, second, third round,” Sharapova said of possibly playing the former World No.1. “[Kerber] just happens to be the next one that could be in the draw that I have to play.
“I look forward to these matches. I want to be playing against opponents that are former Grand Slam champions. [Kerber’s] had success here. She's had success playing out here in these conditions on these courts. I want to see where I am on that level.”