Maria Sharapova ended Caroline Wozniacki’s Australian Open title defence with a hard-fought three-set win in the third round on Friday. In their first meeting since 2015, Sharapova overpowered Wozniacki in a 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory after two hours and 24 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. Wozniacki gave up break leads in each of the opening two sets, before Sharapova delivered when it mattered most in the decider.
Wozniacki and Sharapova traded blows from the back of the court in what was a huge early battle. Errors from Sharapova gave Wozniacki a break for a 3-1 lead, only for the Danish third seed to double fault when down a break point in the seventh game.
Sharapova’s charge continued as she reeled off five straight games, winning the opening set with a powerful forehand winner down the line.
Wozniacki importantly slowed Sharapova’s momentum and held serve to start the second, the Russian then broken after three double faults to fall 2-0 behind.
Sharapova, the 30th seed, responded once more, breaking back again with a forehand winner in the fifth game.
However, Wozniacki managed to steady and broke at the perfect moment, taking the second set 6-4.
It was Wozniacki who looked the more likely to land the first big blow in the decider before Sharapova did just that in the seventh game, a huge forehand winner giving her a 4-3 lead.
Wozniacki denied Sharapova once in the ninth game, but a cross-court backhand proved unreturnable as the Russian clinched victory on her second opportunity.
The Russian said: “I thought the level was quite high. I knew I was going to get a really tough match. I haven’t played a lot of matches in the last year, especially against top players. These are the matches you train for and it’s really rewarding to win the last point.”
Wozniacki is the highest-ranked opponent Sharapova has beaten since her first-round victory over Simona Halep at the US Open in 2017. That was her first grand slam tournament back after her 15-month doping ban and at the time seemed to be a sign of the Russian’s impending resurgence. It has not happened that way, though, with Sharapova struggling to find anything like her previous form and also troubled by injuries, with an ongoing shoulder problem prompting her to shut down her season after the US Open last summer.
The 31-year-old bristled a little at the suggestion she needed a statement win like this to kick her comeback into gear but there was no doubt she was fired up for this encounter. There is no love lost between the two players. Wozniacki was one of the most outspoken critics of the way Sharapova was welcomed back to the game following her ban, prompting the Russian’s agent Max Eisenbud to brand Wozniacki a “journeyman player”.
A five-time grand slam champion and the 2008 Australian Open winner, Sharapova will face home hope Ashleigh Barty in the fourth round.