Sharapova bounces back as rivals struggle in Melbourne

Second seed Maria Sharapova sparked her flatlining Australian Open campaign back to life Friday, as rivals Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep limped into the fourth round.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova brushed aside Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-1, saying she had learned her lesson from a massive scare in her previous match, when she had to save two match points.

But while the Russian veteran was re-asserting her authority, young guns Bouchard, the seventh seed, and third seeded Halep of Romania had to battle past against unfancied opponents.

Sharapova, 27, was fired up after compatriot Alexandra Panova embarrassed her in the second round, saying she was determined not to be caught out again by another young up-and-comer in 31st seed Diyas.

“After such a big challenge… you feel like you have another life,” said Sharapova, who could seize the world number one ranking off arch-rival Serena Williams if she takes the title at Melbourne Park.

“I started really focused, I knew I had a tough, long match previously, so I wanted to start off strong and finish strong, I think I did a good job of that.”

The Russian, the Australian Open champion in 2008, faces a round four showdown against China’s Peng Shuai, who made the US Open semi-finals in 2014.

– Bouchard stays calm –

Canada’s Bouchard, a semi-finalist in Australia last year, was forced to hang tough as France’s Caroline Garcia launched an early onslaught, but rode out the storm and finished strongly in a 7-5, 6-0 victory.

Cheered on by the “Genie Army”, the 20-year-old it wasn’t “the prettiest tennis” as her wobbly service game came under pressure from the world number 36, attributing the win to mental strength.

“I just tried to stay calm,” she said.” I knew that I would hopefully find my groove at some point. I kept going… finally, it clicked a little bit and I was able to get on a roll.”

Bouchard, who followed up last year’s Melbourne semi with appearances in the final four at Roland Garros and the decider at Wimbledon, faces Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu next up.

Halep, another youngster tipped for Grand Slam success, also found the going tougher than expected against American world number 258 Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

The 23-year-old looked set for a no-nonsense win after taking the first set and leading 5-1 in the second but was unsettled by the never-say-die Mattek-Sands before eventually triumphing 6-4, 7-5.

“It was a tough match, it was very hot outside,” a relieved Halep said, adding that the blip would not affect her title bid at the season-opening Grand Slam.

“I have more confidence now during the Grand Slams and I believe I have my chance at every tournament,”

Halep, who is looking to build on a breakthrough 2014 which included an appearance in the French Open decider, will meet Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer in the fourth round.

Wickmayer, a former world number 12 and US Open semi-finalist, knocked out 14th seeded Italian Sara Errani in three sets.

Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka, who upset fifth seed Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in the first round, fell 7-6 (8/6) 7-5 to Germany’s Julia Goerges.

Goerges faces a fourth-round match-up with Russia 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who defeated Czech 22nd seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-4.


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