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Wozniacki ousted in Sharapova stunner

  • Michael Beattie

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki fell in the third round of the Australian Open 2019, beaten by former champ and No.30 seed Maria Sharapova 6-4 4-6 6-3 in a breath-taking clash on Rod Laver Arena.

It was the runner versus the gunner on Rod Laver Arena, as this clash of former champs and former world No.1s lived up to the billing. As quick as Wozniacki may be, she didn’t have enough answers in the face of a 37-strong barrage of winners from Sharapova, who will face Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty for a spot in the quarter-finals.

“I was anticipating the match and I wanted that match to happen,” Sharapova said, having targeted this encounter when the draw was released. “These are really the types of matchups that I haven't really had where I could really challenge myself.

“Whether it was a bad result or an easy two-set loss, to be in the grind of things and to really have to figure out a way to be on top is what I missed. I didn't really get many of those chances. You learn a lot, and when you put yourself in those positions and you get through, those are great, great victories.”

The 2008 champion had made a blistering start to the tournament, dropping just three games in her first two matches, but had lost four inside the first five games as Wozniacki hared out to a 4-1 lead. But any notion that the defending champion would have it all her own way ended over the next five games. Wozniacki had simply set the pace, and Sharapova caught up at a full sprint. 

The contest had simmered until that point but burst into life at the start of the eighth game, Sharapova scrambling and lobbing a left-handed forehand to keep the first point alive before hammering an unreturnable backhand that proved too hot for the Dane.

It was the last of her back-to-the-wall tennis for the rest of the set as a stunned Wozniacki was left chasing drive after blistering drive, blasting a ball into the stands after netting a short backhand to slip 5-4 down. Sharapova’s only blip came when serving for the set, flubbing her first two chances to serve out from 40-0 before arrowing a forehand down the line that left the defending champion for dead, her 16th winner of the match.

With rain on the way the roof was closed before the start of the second set, and Wozniacki halted Sharapova’s five-game streak with a much-needed hold. Be it in part due to the change in conditions or the brief delay, the No.3 seed had successfully hit the reset switch, scampering after a cross-court backhand before unleashing an unmatchable forehand down the line to break en route to a 3-0 lead, only to see Sharapova level up with another unplayable purple patch.

The duo had not met for almost four years, but with the last three of their 10 previous clashes entering a third set, the pattern continued in this, their 11th clash. Wozniacki did well to prevent Sharapova from surging through the second set as she had in the first, and while she saw a break point come and go at 3-4, a fourth double fault of the set from the Russian gifted her a set point at 4-5, sealed when Sharapova sent a forehand long.

“She was either making a winner or making a mistake, and then I was waiting, and then I felt like I just lost my rhythm a little bit,” Wozniacki said. “But then I thought from the middle of the second set, I feel like we both picked it up, and the third set we both played well. It was just a grind out there.”

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova cracked home 37 winners against Wozniacki

Tension became a factor for both players in the decider, which came to a head at 3-3 when Sharapova fired two untouchable returns to reach 15-40. Wozniacki rallied to save both break points but a wayward backhand handed the Russian a third, sealed after backing up a fine lunging return with a forehand winner and backed up with a hold to love.

With that, the game was up for the 2018 champ. Having had the match on her racquet for most of the third set, Sharapova sprinted to the finish, firing an unreturnable cross-court backhand on her second match point to seal victory in two hours, 24 minutes.

MORE: AO2019 women's singles results

Ashleigh Barty awaits Sharapova in the fourth round, after beating Maria Sakkari earlier on Friday. The five-time Grand Slam champion won their only previous meeting last year in Rome, triumphing in three sets on the clay.

“Her story is phenomenal,” Sharapova said of the Aussie No.1. “She loves playing here – did extremely well in Sydney but just overall has been so consistent.

“I know that it’s going to be a tough crowd, but I go out here to perform and play tennis. That’s why the nets go up, so we can compete. I love that opportunity.”