Melbourne: Flawless Maria Sharapova set a new Australian Open record on Sunday in losing just five games en-route to the quarter-finals, where she was joined by Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na.
The second seed has been in impeccable form and she thrashed unseeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-0 to set up a meeting with 19th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who beat fifth seed Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-4.
Polish fourth seed Radwanska also powered into the last eight, winning her 13th match in a row without dropping a set by thumping Serbian former world No 1 Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 6-4.
She now meets Li on Tuesday for a place in the semi-finals after the Chinese world No 6 battled past Germany’s Julia Goerges 7-6 (8/6), 6-1.
Sharapova, the 2008 champion, has only dropped five games in four matches so far in her bid for a second Australian title, the fewest games conceded to make the quarters in Melbourne in the Open era. Monica Seles (1991 and 1993) and Steffi Graf (1989) previously held the record at eight games.
But Sharapova narrowly missed the all-Grand Slam mark held by Mary Pierce, who dropped only four games in making the last eight at the French Open in 1994.
“I’m certainly happy that I’m playing this well but it’s now the quarter-finals and it only gets tougher,” Sharapova said. “It’s really about keeping your focus, no matter what the score is, no matter if you’re up.”
The second seed, who needs to reach the final to have a chance of returning to world No 1, had beaten Flipkens in both of their previous matches.
She held serve and then, helped by some loose Flipkens shots, got the break for 2-1. Flipkens had two break point chances in the next game but failed to convert as Sharapova held.
The four-time Grand Slam winner was starting to get the measure of her opponent on a hot Melbourne day and raced to the set when Flipkens sent a forehand long.
It was more of the same in the second set as the Belgian lost confidence, with the Russian racing through it in just 25 minutes.
Sharapova now plays Makarova in a repeat of their last-eight clash in 2012, when she won and went on to make the final, losing to world No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Makarova is looking for revenge. “I really want to play against Maria as I lost to her last year,” she said. “I’m confident and like my game so I think it will be really interesting. I think I’m more prepared this year. Last year I was surprised to get so far, but this time I’ll be ready.”
The defeat meant Kerber remains the only player in the current top 10 not to have made a Grand Slam final.
Radwanska, who won warm-up tournaments in Auckland and Sydney, made short work of Ivanovic, proving too powerful and consistent and now meets Li, who is bidding to make a second Melbourne final in three years.
“Well, what can I say?” said the Pole, the form player on the women’s tour this year. “I’m just very happy that I can play at a very high level. “Already 13 matches and not even losing a set. Well, I hope I can keep going three more.”