By Alana Mitchelson
(January 18, 2014) MELBOURNE – Having successfully fended off an aggressive Alize Cornet on Saturday, the world No. 3 Maria Sharapova will move forward into the fourth round of the Australian Open 2014.
The Russian dominated rallies from the get-go to surge ahead to a comfortable 4-0 lead. It was not until the fifth game that her French opponent, Cornet, lifted her aggression levels during critical moments, at last securing a break to stamp the leaderboard for the first time that morning.
But that would be the only game the Frenchwoman would claim as her own in the opener as Sharapova closed out the first set in a fairly swift half hour.
Cornet returned to court fired up and as though with fresh purpose. She attacked Sharapova’s backhand and placed significantly more pressure on her serve. Finally finding her rhythm and confidence, Cornet ran her opponent along the baseline in an attempt to force the error.
These strategies served the No. 25 seed well throughout the set as the two women battled through long, demanding rallies which often featured stellar lobs and elegant drop shots.
Sharapova was, however, virtually unstoppable once she seized opportunities to move up to the net for the occasional deep, winner volley. Identifying the Frenchwoman’s overconfidence when up a break, she worked to turn the score around to claim match point at 5-3.
With two opportunities to serve out the match, an unrelenting Cornet protected the games on both occasions and the crowd erupting with immense cheers and applause as she challenged Sharapova to a suspenseful tie-break.
Determined not to enter a third set after the long, brutal three-setter she had experienced in 111 degree heat just two days prior, Sharapova seized a 4-2 lead. Cornet had a chance to snatch hold of the second set at 6-5 in the tie but two untimely mishits in the pressure of the moment enabled Sharapova to dictate points and take command of the match in straight sets – much to her relief.
”It was quite tough in the end,” Sharapova admitted.
“She had a set point and she had a chance to level the match out which is something I probably wouldn’t want to do, to go into a third set. I was happy I was able to finish it in two.
”I think I can take a few positives from this match. One being the fact that I was able to win it not playing my best tennis. There are definitely things I’m going to have to improve and do better moving forward because it is only is going to get tougher. But I am happy that I took my chances, you know, even though it was pretty close in that second set.”
Sharapova is expecting a difficult fourth round match against Slovakian Dominika Cibulková on Monday.
”She’s a great retriever of the ball. It’s going to be a very physical match. She likes to make it physical, that’s when she plays her best. But obviously, I don’t want to go there with her,” Sharapova smiled.
”But, no, she’s a tough opponent. That’s for sure. She plays a lot of top players extremely well and tough, and has nothing to lose. So I’m expecting a tough one in the next round.”
Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.