Melbourne (Reuters): Maria Sharapova’s hopes of a title-winning return to the Australian Open were unceremoniously crushed by Angelique Kerber as the battle of the former champions ended 6-1 6-3 in the German’s favour on Saturday.
The Rod Laver Arena evening clash between the only two grand slam winners left in the women’s draw had the feel of a showpiece final rather than a third-round match-up but only 21st seed Kerber rose to the occasion.
Unseeded Russian Sharapova, back in Melbourne after testing positive for a banned substance following her quarter-final defeat by Serena Williams here in 2016, which resulted in a 15-month ban, had looked menacing in the opening two rounds.
But the form she showed in beating 14th seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova deserted her.
Kerber, who plummeted down the rankings last year after finishing the previous campaign at number one, broke Sharapova’s serve in the first game of the match and that set the tone.
The German made only seven unforced errors in the 64-minute contest and, on the court on which she stunned Serena Williams to win the title two years ago, celebrated victory with the look of a woman who firmly believes she is back in business.
Kerber will face either 26th seed Agnieszka Radwanska or Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan in the next round.