Tennis: 'Old' Sharapova into fourth round

Maria Sharapova in action during her Australian Open third-round win over Lauren Davis. She will next face 12th seed Belinda Bencic, a semi-finalist at this month's Sydney International.
Maria Sharapova in action during her Australian Open third-round win over Lauren Davis. She will next face 12th seed Belinda Bencic, a semi-finalist at this month's Sydney International.PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE • World No. 5 Maria Sharapova battled past Lauren Davis and into the Australian Open fourth round yesterday as she edges closer to another showdown with arch-rival Serena Williams.

The Russian fifth seed needed 2hr 14min to see off the 103rd-ranked American 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-0 with the roof closed over Rod Laver Arena on a wet Melbourne day.

It was the Russian's 600th career win, a milestone only 16 women in history have managed.

"Oh, wow, I've won 600 matches?" the 28-year-old said.

"Oh boy. Is this like a friendly reminder that I'm getting older?"

MANY MATCHES, MANY YEARS

Oh, wow, I've won 600 matches? Oh boy. Is this like a friendly reminder that I'm getting older?

MARIA SHARAPOVA, on learning that she had just won her 600th career match against Lauren Davis.

A younger version of herself was convinced she would be a mother by now. Instead, she is on a quest for a sixth Grand Slam title, readying herself for a challenge from an opponent 10 years her junior.

She will next face 12th seed Belinda Bencic, after the dangerous Swiss teenager beat Ukraine's Kateryna Bondarenko 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 .

"I never thought that I'd be playing at this age, honestly," said Sharapova, whose personal life remains out of bounds, although she most recently had a relationship with fellow player Grigor Dimitrov.

"I thought I would, I mean, not have kids at 20, but I would have children at this point."

If Sharapova gets past Bencic she faces a potential quarter-final with defending champion Williams, who has proved unshakeable in every match they have played since 2004.

But Sharapova will not look past Bencic.

The Swiss won two tournaments last year - including in Toronto, where she upset Williams.

"Yeah, an impressive player. A newer generation that's already established herself in the past season, beaten a lot of top players," Sharapova said of the 18-year-old, a product of the tennis school run by Martina Hingis' mother Melanie Molitor.

"It's a tough fourth round. We haven't played against each other before, but I'm sure we'll be playing many times."

Their first meeting will provide Bencic with a litmus test on how far she has come.

Since bursting onto the scene in her professional debut one week after her 14th birthday in 2011, she has raced through the rankings from 1,059 to world No. 14. But her star will shine even brighter if she can upset Sharapova tomorrow.

"I'm very happy to play all these big players. That's what I play for," she said. "For sure, I will prepare good and just be really excited."

Bencic has worked hard on her game, citing a better service game and more stamina.

A semi-finalist at this month's Sydney International, the youngster has won her last 15 three-set matches, dating back to the 2015 French Open.

When told of the statistic, she replied: "That's good, that's good.

"I don't know if it's only fitness, but also the focus and the belief that you can really play the best at the most important points."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline ''Old' Sharapova into fourth round'. Print Edition | Subscribe