Maria Sharapova is relishing a potential meeting against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Australian Open following her 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory over 14th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova on Thursday.
Sharapova, unseeded in Melbourne as she continues to build back her ranking following her doping suspension, overcame sweltering conditions that neared 40°C and an opponent that ended her US Open campaign in the fourth round last year.
The Russian ex-world No. 1 fired 30 winners and won 82 per cent of the points on her first serve in a tough 80-minute victory.
She faces two-time Grand Slam champion Kerber in the third round, after the German eased past Donna Vekic 6-4, 6-1.
“I came in with no ranking. 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. She just happens to be the next one that’s in the draw that I have to play,” said Sharapova when asked if she felt it was too early in the draw to face someone of Kerber’s calibre.
“As I said before, I look forward to these matches. I want to be playing against opponents that have former Grand Slam champions. She’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.”
“Walking through that tunnel is extremely special…it gives me the motivation that I can do it again.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2018
Sharapova, appearing at the Australian Open this year for the first time since she failed a drugs test at the tournament in 2016, celebrated her second round success against Sevastova with so much passion and fire and the 30-year-old admits she missed competing at the event last season.
“I was watching this tournament with a box of Kleenex next to me sick. So, you know, I feel like I transported myself into the TV this year and I’m finding myself on Rod Laver Arena competing. A lot of things to smile about,” explained Sharapova, a champion in Melbourne in 2008.
“I wanted to be here. I got myself here. Yeah, it’s great to be back.
She added: “I had really tough matches against her. Despite winning our last match, I faced two match points and barely got through that one, 7-6 in the third.
“It’s a warm day. I did my job in two sets against someone that’s been troubling in the past for me. So third round of the Australian Open, I don’t know, I think I deserve to smile out there after that victory.”
On a day marked by heroic comebacks and epic collapses, most of the players who pulled off upsets in the first round crashed out of the Australian Open in the second round — with Kyle Edmund and Marta Kostyuk among the few exceptions.
Belinda Bencic (beat Venus Williams in R1), Zhang Shuai (beat Sloane Stephens in R1), Yuichi Sugita (beat Jack Sock in R1), Timea Babos (beat Coco Vandeweghe in R1) and Ruben Bemelmans (beat Lucas Pouille in R1) all failed to back up their wins from the opening round and were sent packing.
Here’s a look at the highs and lows of day three at Melbourne Park…
HERO OF THE DAY
Caroline Wozniacki climbed back from 1-5 down in the final set against Croatian Jana Fett, saving two match points along the way, to advance to the third round. A gritty performance from the No. 2 seed. Remember when Angelique Kerber saved a match point in her Australian Open first round then went on to win the title in 2016? Could this be a defining moment in Wozniacki’s quest for a maiden Grand Slam title? Time will tell!
— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 17, 2018
COLLAPSE OF THE DAY
Daria Gavrilova squandered eight set points at 5-0 up and somehow ended up losing the opening set, 5-7 to Elise Mertens in their second round clash on Rod Laver Arena. The Aussie won just three of the last 16 games to hand Mertens a 7-5, 6-3 victory. Ouch!
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Good on him. Little claim to fame. Let him have it.”
— Nick Kyrgios when told that the spectator distracting him during his match said on social media it was the greatest thing he has ever done.
STAT OF THE DAY
22 — The 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk became the youngest to reach the Australian Open third round since Martina Hingis in 1996.
MARATHONER OF THE DAY
In typical Ivo Karlovic fashion, the 89th-ranked Croatian survived a four-hour 33-minute affair to defeat Jack Sock’s conqueror Yuichi Sugita 7-6 (3), 6-7 (3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10 and become the oldest man to reach the Australian Open third round in 40 years. He fired 53 aces and will next play Italy’s Andreas Seppi.
— Christopher Kas (@KasiTennis) January 17, 2018
DRAW OPENINGS ALERT
One of the following will be in the quarter-finals:
Ivo Karlovic, Andreas Seppi, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Kyle Edmund.
One of the following will be in the semi-finals:
Luksika Kumkhum, Petra Martic, Elise Mertens, Alize Cornet, Denisa Allertova, Magda Linette, Marta Kostyuk, Elina Svitolina.
DEBUTANT TO REMEMBER
Mackenzie McDonald made sure he left a lasting impression on his first Australian Open as he narrowly lost to No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov in an entertaining affair that ended 8-6 in the fifth set in the Bulgarian’s favour. McDonald won both the singles and doubles NCAA titles with UCLA in 2016 and is ranked 186 in the world.
Gallant in defeat.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2018
POINTS FOR EFFORT
Malek Jaziri spent a total of eight hours and four minutes on court in his first two rounds. The Tunisian came back from two sets down to defeat Salvatore Caruso in his opener then climbed from a two-sets-to-love deficit in the second round against No. 23 seed Gilles Muller before finally surrendering in five sets. Not bad from a guy who turns 34 in three days.
Kyrgios, who is now just two spots lower than Tsonga in the world rankings, got his hero’s autograph after each practice at Melbourne Park.
On Friday, Kyrgios takes on Tsonga in the Australian Open third round, a decade on from his days as a young fan chasing signatures.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Kyrgios, who lost his only previous meeting with Tsonga — a tight three-setter in the Marseille semi-finals 11 months ago.
“We played last year in Marseille. He beat me in a three-set battle. It was a lot of fun. Obviously a guy I looked up to growing up.
“I’ve seen him play a lot. I know what he’s going to bring. He knows what I’m going to bring. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2018
Kyrgios reflects fondly on that 2008 tournament which remains Tsonga’s sole appearance in a Grand Slam final.
“It was just the way he played his game. I liked his aggressive style of tennis. He had a big serve, big forehand. He played an entertaining style tennis,” he said of Tsonga.
“When I was 12, I went to all his practice sessions. He made the final in 2008. I think I was 12. I went to all his practice sessions with a new ball. He signed it every day. I don’t know if he remembers. I didn’t miss one of his practice sessions, so…”
Kyrgios isn’t just 10 years older now; so far at the Australian Open, he has shown composure when he needed it, as he overcame an attention-seeking disruptive fan, an inoperative court microphone and a helicopter hovering persistently over the chaotic Hisense Arena to post a 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over Serbia’s Viktor Troicki.
The 22-year-old Aussie began his season by clinching the title in Brisbane and now extended his winning streak to seven matches and zero losses in 2018.
He loves the energy of Hisense Arena — dubbed the “People’s Court” — and is known to feed off the crowd. But on Wednesday, the distractions were working against him yet he chose to conserve his energy instead of giving in to the hype.
“I know I have to conserve my energy from the start in best-of-five matches. Just so many ups and downs, it’s draining. You want to just conserve as much energy as you can,” said Kyrgios.
“It was tough. I told the umpire to maybe just not use a microphone anymore because the crowd just found it so amusing. I mean, I was just like, ‘Dude, just stop doing it. It’s going to create more of a circus’. He stopped doing it.
“Obviously it was tough. It felt like I was playing at another tournament. I didn’t hear the microphone, no music at change of ends. It was a strange atmosphere.”
Despite some complaints to the umpire, Kyrgios relatively kept his cool and walked off court a winner in straight sets.
The usually temperamental Kyrgios, who was slapped with a $3,000 fine for using colorful language during his opening round match, admits he’s showing signs of maturity.
“I think last year, the year before, I probably would have been probably still out on the court right now, could be losing that match,” he said in his post-match press conference.
In Tsonga’s second round, experience prevailed over youth as the French world No. 15 came back from 2-5 down in the fifth set to outlast Canadian tennis Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a three-hour 37-minute tug of war.
Playing just the second five-set match of his career, Shapovalov, 18, couldn’t seal the deal but still earned the praise of the legendary Rod Laver, who tweeted after the match:
— Rod Laver (@rodlaver) January 17, 2018
The left-handed Next Gen star, who sports an attacking one-handed backhand, won the ATP Star of Tomorrow and Most Improved Player awards in 2017, earned the respect of Tsonga, who said after the match: “I think he deserved to win also today, but I was also courageous and I did my job at the end. I played well. I think I deserve it, too.”
Kyrgios has long expressed his admiration for the 50th-ranked Shapovalov and tips him for great things in the future.
“I think Denis is going to be one of the stars of the game,” said Kyrgios, who was Shapovalov’s team-mate on Team World at the inaugural Laver Cup last September. “He’s showing signs. Obviously it’s not easy to be in that position in the first place. He’ll learn from it. I’m sure he’ll start closing out matches like that soon enough.”
“It’s not easy playing against those young guns… they go for everything.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2018
Tsonga, a 32-year-old who became a father last year, knows what to expect from his showdown with Kyrgios. He is a decade older than his opponent but is not daunted by the task at hand.
“Like today. He’s got the fire in the arms,” said Tsonga.
“I’m very excited about it. It’s good to play against those guys. They are, for sure, the present, but also the future of tennis. Yeah, I played so many guys when I was young like them. I remember I played Tim Henman in US Open. I played Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, so many guys like this, of different generation. So it’s always good to play against them and compare our tennis to their tennis.”