Melbourne: Maria Sharapova stunned defending champion Caroline Wozniacki to sweep into the Australian Open last 16 Friday and join ice men Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who clinically disposed of their opponents.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner, who has struggled since returning from a drugs ban in 2017, was at full throttle in ending the Dane’s dream of a second major title.
Sharapova won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena and will next play in-form local hope Ashleigh Barty, who bounced Greece’s Maria Sakkari, for a berth in the quarter-finals.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew it would be a tough match,” said the 2008 champion, who has been in sizzling form at the tournament as she chases her first Slam title since Roland Garros in 2014.
“These types of matches are what I train for and it was really rewarding to win that last point,” added the 30th seed.
Second seed Nadal called young Australian Alex de Minaur “one of the best in the world” ahead of their evening clash, then proceeded to hand him a tennis lesson, dismantling the teenager 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“I hit a good serve and played a solid game,” said the 2009 champion who is searching for an 18th Grand Slam title.
He paid tribute to De Minaur, who saved six match points.
“He’s a big fighter and super quick. Alex has an amazing future.”
Nadal’s reward is a meeting with Tomas Berdych, who rallied to beat Argentine 18th seed Diego Schwartzman 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
The Czech veteran reached the semi-finals in 2014 and 2015 but is unseeded this year as he returns from a back injury that almost forced his retirement last year.
Swiss great Federer was also on fire in taming big-serving American Taylor Fritz 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to stay on track for a third successive title at Melbourne Park and a 21st Grand Slam crown.
On a rain-affected day that delayed play on outside courts, the 37-year-old showed no mercy to the 21-year-old in his 100th match on the centre court in Melbourne.
“I had a really good feeling out here today against someone who can be dangerous,” said Federer after reaching the Melbourne fourth round for the 17th time — more than anyone else ever.
“Taylor played really well. He is going to have many more years on tour playing at this level.”
The double defending champion is gunning for a record seventh Australian title. If he goes on to win the tournament, he will become the first man ever to claim seven or more crowns at two Slams, having already won eight Wimbledons.
Next up for him is fiery Greek 14th seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Georgia’s 19th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.
My brand of tennis
Barty beat Greece’s Sakkari 7-5, 6-1, with the 15th seed yet to drop a set in her best performance at Melbourne Park.
She has won seven of eight matches this month to back up a title victory in Zhuhai late last year to shape up as a dangerous opponent for Sharapova.
“It’s getting to the point now where I’m feeling more and more comfortable on the court and can play my brand of tennis, which when I execute I know it works against the best in the world,” said a confident Barty.
No Australian woman has won the season-opening Grand Slam at Melbourne Park since Christine O’Neill in 1978.
Germany’s second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 title holder, takes on Australian youngster Kimberley Birrell later.
Meanwhile, unseeded American Amanda Anisimova continued her dream run, ousting 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets.
The 17-year-old, who models herself on Sharapova, will play eighth seed Petra Kvitova for a place in the quarter-finals.
Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also advanced, crushing Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0, 6-3 for a last 16 showdown with fifth seed Sloane Stephens, who beat Petra Martic in straight sets.
Marin Cilic overcame a pair of match points — including one double-faulted away by Fernando Verdasco — and a two-set deficit for a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3 victory.
The No. 6-seeded Cilic, last year’s runner-up and the 2014 US Open champion, saved a match point at 7-6 in the fourth-set tiebreaker with a service winner, then watched as Verdasco gave away another chance to win at 8-7 by failing to put a serve in play. Cilic then grabbed a 3-0 lead in the fifth set and held on to complete the comeback.
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has won a match after dropping the opening two sets. He also did it in the third round of the previous Grand Slam tournament — against Alex de Minaur at the US Open in September.
Cilic now faces No. 22 Roberto Bautista-Agut, who eliminated No. 10 Karen Khachanov 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE x14) bt Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO x19) 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, Tomas Berdych (CZE) bt Diego Schwartzman (ARG x18) 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, Roger Federer (SUI x3) bt Taylor Fritz (USA) 6-2, 7-5, 6-2, Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x20) bt Thomas Fabbiano (ITA) 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, Frances Tiafoe (USA) bt Andreas Seppi (ITA) 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x22) bt Karen Khachanov (RUS x10) 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, Rafael Nadal (ESP x2) bt Alex De Minaur (AUS x27) 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, Marin Cilic (CRO x6) bt Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8), 6-3
Ashleigh Barty (AUS x15) bt Maria Sakkari (GRE) 7-5, 6-1 , Amanda Anisimova (USA) bt Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x11) 6-3, 6-2, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 6-0, 6-3, Maria Sharapova (RUS x30) bt Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x3) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, Sloane Stephens (USA x5) bt Petra Martic (CRO x31) 7-6, 7-6, Petra Kvitova (CZE x8) bt Belinda Bencic (SUI) 6-1, 6-4, Danielle Collins (USA) bt Caroline Garcia (FRA x19) 6-3, 6-2