MELBOURNE: Maria Sharapova was all business yesterday as she set up a glamourous Australian Open quarter-final with Eugenie Bouchard, as Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray also continued their unrelenting Grand Slam march.
The Russian world number two ended Chinese hopes by swatting aside 21st seed Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-0 as she lifts her game the longer she goes in the tournament.
It hands organisers a dream last-eight clash between two of the most marketable players on tour with Canadian seventh seed Bouchard surviving a mid-match slump to defeat unseeded Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in three sets.
Sharapova felt that Bouchard, the tour’s most consistent performer at Grand Slams last year who pushed her in their French Open semi-final, would be a big challenge. “She’s been playing incredibly well, confident aggressive tennis. I have a tough match ahead of me,” said the Russian.
The popular Bouchard is widely seen as a future major champion after her semi-final appearance at Melbourne Park last year, a feat she matched in Paris before making the Wimbledon final.
It didn’t go all her way against Begu, who sparked to life in the second set to push the ambitious 20-year-old to a third before winning 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.
Dangerous Romanian third seed Simona Halep also went through, battling past unseeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-4, 6-2 and will meet Russian 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova.
Makarova blitzed unseeded German Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-2 and has yet to drop a set.
Murray, Nadal march on
Sharapova’s boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov, meanwhile, was defeated by never-say-die British sixth seed Andy Murray, who won the last five games to battle through a pulsating night match on Rod Laver Arena 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-5.
Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, was dominant after a tight first set against power-hitting South African Kevin Anderson, running out a 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 winner and will next play Czech Tomas Berdych for a place in the semi-finals.
The consistent Berdych, who made the final four last year, ended Australian Bernard Tomic’s tournament with a comfortable 6-2, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 hit-out.
“After a tough period of time for me it’s a fantastic result and I’m very happy with the way I played today,” said Spain’s Nadal, who came into the tournament after a three-month injury layoff. “It was probably my best match here this year so that’s very important for me and very special.”
Berdych has lost his last 17 encounters with Nadal and admitted he would have to be at the top of his game to win. “Whatever I need to do I’m going to be ready for it and will try to fight until the last point,” he said.
Another Australian, teenager Nick Kyrgios, managed to achieve what Roger Federer could not by beating dogged Italian Andreas Seppi 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) 8-6.
The 19-year-old becomes the first home-grown quarter-finalist in Melbourne since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 with a face-off against Murray his reward.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2015.