MELBOURNE, Australia - 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova twice trailed No.12 seed Belinda Bencic by a break in the opening set, but the Russian held her ground to fend off the Swiss youngster, winning, 7-5, 7-5.
Looking to reach her eighth quarterfinal, Sharapova had a tough time against Bencic, who was in the second week Down Under for the first time in her career. With points for 5-3 in the first set, Sharapova turned things around, winning four of the next five games to take a one set lead.
The former No.1 hit an astounding 21 aces and 58 winners, but Bencic nonetheless drew 46 unforced errors from the Russian's racquet, and traded eleven straight service holds in the second before dropping serve once more on an incorrect challenge, sending Sharapova into the last eight.
"This must be the first match I won on a challenge," she told Rennae Stubbs during the on-court interview. "It felt like a clean ball, I felt like it was on the line, and I was really positive about it. Worst case scenario, it would have gone back to deuce!"
Sharapova was highly complimentary of her vanquished opponent, but was pleased to have held up on behalf of the old guard.
"These are the players who will ultimately take our spot, but not just yet! I was really focused today. I knew she has a great game and she's had a really good season. It was our first meeting, but I'm sure we'll be playing many more times in the future. It's always great to play against a player who's been coming up for the first time."
Under the roof on Rod Laver Arena, Sharapova won yet another indoor match this week due to the inclement weather in Melbourne.
"It's quite strange; I've played more matches indoors than outdoors in this tournament. It's the first time in my career that I've played this many indoor matches at the Australian Open, three back-to-back. I love playing indoors, but this is an outdoor tournament, so I'd love to play outdoors for the next one."
"Serena's obviously a big favorite coming into that match, and what a year she's had. I expect to play her in the next match, but we'll see the result.
"It was a great final last year; I came quite close in the second set but not close enough. I look forward to playing the best in the world, and that's what she has proven to be for the last many years, and it'd be a great match."