Is Maria Sharapova on the Road to Another Australian Open Crown?
The Russian reached the third round with a 6-1, 6-3 win over the former world No. 1 and seven-time Grand Slam champion. It was a scoreline that could hardly have been expected on paper. Williams and Sharapova were 3-4 in their head-to-head, respectively; Sharapova now has a decided two-win advantage.
Not to have been expected before the Australian Open on paper, too, might have been Sharapova's almost utter domination at the tournament so far. She had breezed by her first two rounds with double bagels and was only broken once in an overpowering display against Williams.
Williams, seven years Sharapova's senior, was placed for a night in a different league. She seems to have legitimately lost a step or two and much in the slightly, ungainly movement was perhaps is due to the loss of that agility over the years. It was at least cumbersome enough to make Sharapova's ground strokes pierce her defenses with relative ease.
The Russian, on the other hand, was utterly ruthless and without quarter for a set and 5-1. Then, the seemingly overwhelmed Williams began to pick up the pace, fighting back to 5-3 with some tight deuce games. She also had a half-chance at 30-30 when Sharapova served for it for the second time—all fluffed away, however, when a forehand return sailed long and an ace sealed the victory for Sharapova.
It was a victory reminiscent of another she had enjoyed over a legend of the game—her second round win over Lindsay Davenport in 2008, en route to her only Australian Open title. Then, she easily handled the slightly outdated ground strokes of the American by, interestingly, the score of 6-1, 6-3.
Sharapova's 2008 win has been so far unparalleled in her career, for the sheer brutality and focus of her wins. She has so far been thoroughly uncharitable in the first two rounds and was practically unanswerable against Williams.
The de facto favourite for the tournament, Serena Williams, might be distracted by ankle worries, and at least Sharapova won't have to worry about either her or the other woman who might seriously threaten her all-out domination at Melbourne this year, Victoria Azarenka, until the final.
If the Australian Open final were held tomorrow between Sharapova and anybody else in the world it would seem pretty difficult, right now, to argue against her.
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