What's the story?
Caroline Wozniacki saw her title defense come to an end in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday night. Maria Sharapova was the one responsible as she used her aggressive style to attack the weak second serve of the Dane and win the exciting three-setter 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.
It was a huge victory for the Russian who returned to the round of 16 for the first time since her suspension in 2016.
This was the 11th match between the two and first in four years making it a very interesting tussle midway through the tournament. Sharapova won their last meeting on clay but on the hard courts, the Dane superstar edged her 4-3 with the hope of getting another.
The match signified two forces that would explode the moment the battle reached its climax. The players converged with Sharapova forcing a deuce followed by a break point chance. She didn’t get it locked down but continued to challenge Wozniacki through five breaks.
On her second AD point, the defending champion showed her strengths and secured the hold to record the opening game. Things settled down with Sharapova locking down the serve in the second scoring a shutout.
The Dane held in the third before scoring the first break of the set where she gained another break point after deuce to lead 3-1.
The No. 3 seed added a third straight game consolidating the break with a hold in the fifth to increase the gap to three games.
When it looked as if Wozniacki would sail to win the set, Sharapova responded with another shutout coming in the sixth before she broke the 28-year-old with a double fault helping her to make come back in the set.
The 30th seed clinched her fourth game in a row with a ball into the net from the Dane who suffered a complete loss of control. Sharapova continued to produce the right results where she had the quality in her game to reach three set points.
The Russian suddenly double faulted and erred on a forehander that saw her window of opportunity close. With one chance left, Sharapova got into a good rally before scoring a crosscourt winner that closed out things in 50 minutes putting Wozniacki in a tight spot.
She needed a huge win and got it in the first game with Sharapova putting a little too much pep on the ball. Wozniacki attacked the 31-year-old who faltered on serve giving the Dane a huge break and continue setting the pace.
It was a 3-0 run for the 2018 champion who accomplished a true feat in the face of her adversary. However, Sharapova answered with a great service to love that ended with an ace to end the winning streak of Wozniacki.
Former No. 1 Sharapova went after the second serve of the Dane who struggled to get it the right way for herself.
The Russian’s ability to open the court also helped her close down the third seed and come home with the break. The third shutout of Wozniacki got her leveled at three each before she contained a serve since the third game.
It didn’t take anything away from Sharapova who defended in the eighth to stay leveled being so close to the match.
Wozniacki though had a different idea about it and held the ninth to put Sharapova in a pressure situation. The Russian certainly felt the tension as she put effort but fell to Wozniacki who had pulled off a stance with the one and only winner recorded by the 28-year-old.
It took 47 minutes for the Dane to set up a major third set between two former world number one players that would determine who would have the heaviest advantage through the remainder of the tournament.
Both the players gave very little in their service games to start the third with Sharapova getting them started. Despite her attempts to break the Dane, the third seed wouldn’t let it happen destined to go to the brink or find her time to dominate.
They held through six before a huge break for Sharapova came with another forcible attack on Wozniacki’s second serve. A hold for the Russian gave her a two-game gap with the 2018 champion serving it out only to be on the wrong end.
A third Double fault gave Sharapova match point only to see her return on the 19th shot go wide. She got another chance on deuce where a crosscourt return from Sharapova was the trick to win a 2 hour and 24 minutes.
What the players said
Sharapova was relieved and excited as she expressed herself in an on-court interview:
“I thought the level was quite high and knew I was going to get a tough match,She’s the defending champion of this event and it’s no secret of her love for it. I haven’t played many matches in the past year especially against top players and these are the kind of matches that I train for so it’s really rewarding to have won that last point.”
She also spoke of the crowd factor in her next match against the home favorite and Australian No. 1 Ashleigh Barty:
“She has been consistent. I know it’s gonna be a tough crowd but I go out here to perform and play tennis and that’s what was for and that’s why the nets go up is to compete and I love that I have the opportunity to do that.”Published 18 Jan 2019, 14:50 IST