MELBOURNE, Australia - Maria Sharapova booked a battle of former World No.1s when she ousted unseeded Rebecca Peterson, 6-2, 6-1 under the lights at the Australian Open; defending champion and No.3 seed Caroline Wozniacki awaits.
"I don't know about you guys, but this is way past my bedtime," Sharapova joked with the crowd during her on-court interview.
Beginning the match shortly before midnight, the 2008 champion made up for lost time with an efficient victory over the fast-rising Swede, securing victory after 71 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
"I was just thinking about what time I might get to sleep tonight. Overall, I think I played a solid match; it's never easy to be the last match of the day, going on quite late considering the first matches were at 11AM. That's very different in the sense of preparation, but I'm happy with how I performed, and it's always great to be back on this court in front of a great crowd this late."
Peterson made her Top 100 debut last summer and enjoyed her best-ever Grand Slam result at the US Open, where she reached the third round. Still, Sharapova came to court with far more experience and plenty of confidence - having won her first match 6-0, 6-0 over Harriet Dart. All of that showed in the early stages as she broke serve in the third game of the match.
The Russian dug out of a 0-30 hole at 3-2 and rode that momentum through 12 straight points to capture the opening set, losing just three points behind her first serve.
The start of the second set featured some close games that Sharapova ultimately won to take a double break lead as Wednesday turned to Thursday.
Peterson stopped the former No.1's seven-game streak to get on the board and treated the crowd to the longest game of the match shortly thereafter, but Sharapova stood strong, holding for 5-1 and breaking to love to make it over the finish line.
Told she had won her 600th career match, Sharapova chuckled again.
"That's a lot of tennis, and it just confirms that I'm only getting older. I started playing when I was 4 years old, and I still feel I have so much to give to a sport that's given me so much. Every match that I get to play and compete, fighting for every opportunity, is a great day at the office."
In all, Sharapova struck 18 winners and 20 unforced errors while Peterson hit 7 winners to 29 unforced errors. Most encouraging was her performance on serve, making it through the match with an ace and two double faults, a 69% winning percentage on her first serve and a 75% off her second.
Wozniacki reached the third round with a similarly decisive win over Johanna Larsson, and stands between Sharapova and a spot in the second week.
"That's a tough third round for me. She's the No.3 seed at the moment and the defending champion. It's no secret that she loves playing here and loves the conditions. It will be a tough one, but I set up the challenge, so I'm willing to go out there and take it."
The pair haven't played since 2015, when the Russian won a three-set meeting at the Mutua Madrid Open. On hardcourts, Wozniacki has had more success, leading 4-3 on the surface and winning their last two matches at the 2014 US Open and BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.