Maria Sharapova has lost only five games in four matches on the way to the Australian Open quarter-finals, a record at the season’s first major that seems to be immaterial to the 25-year-old Russian.
The world No. 2 beat Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 6-1, 6-0 on Sunday to continue a dominant and unparalleled run.
“Well I’m certainly happy to be playing this well, but ... it only gets tougher from here,” said Sharapova, who is playing her first tournament of the year after withdrawing from an exhibition match in South Korea and a warmup event in Brisbane because of an injured collarbone.
Steffi Graf conceded only eight games in her opening four matches in Melbourne in 1989, when she won the second of her three straight Australian Open titles. Monica Seles matched that mark. Sharapova has been even more dominant.
She started with a pair of 6-0, 6-0 wins — the first time that has happened at a major since 1985 — and then beat seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in the third round.
The reigning French Open champion is showing no signs of trouble with the collarbone in Melbourne, where she last won the title in 2008.
“The year that I won here I don’t think there were many games that I lost, but I don’t think it was five or six,” she said, reflecting on a run to the title where she beat three players who had been ranked world No. 1. “Toughest draw in my career.”
It has not been as tough this year, but she next plays fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted fifth seed Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-4.
Sharapova beat Makarova in the quarter-finals last year on her way to the final, which she lost in straight sets to Victoria Azarenka.
Sharapova had to beat former world No. 1 Justine Henin in the quarter-finals when she won in 2008. Last year, she beat Makarova at the same stage en route to the final, but Makarova, ranked 19th, said she is better prepared this time.
“I really want to play against Maria,” Makarova said. “Now I’m pretty confident and I like my game.”
Li Na saved a set point in the tiebreaker, before beating Julia Goerges 7-6 (8/6), 6-1. She is next due to play fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat 13th seed Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 6-4 for her 13th consecutive win. Radwanska won the Auckland and Sydney titles before traveling to Melbourne.
In men’s matches, fourth seed David Ferrer had a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 win over 16th seed Kei Nishikori of Japan to reach the quarter-finals, where he meets Nicolas Almagro.
Nishikori had won two of his previous three matches with Ferrer and was a quarter-finalist in Australia last year, but struggled with 65 unforced errors in the 2 hour, 10 minute match.
Almagro advanced later yesterday, leading 6-2, 5-1 when eighth seed Janko Tipsaveric retired.
In the late match, top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia was in a tight battle with Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, with the score standing at 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 10-10 as at press time last night.
The winner plays fifth seed Tomas Berdych, who needed five match points in the tiebreaker before beating South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (15/13) to reach the quarter-finals for the third straight year.
In the women’s doubles, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and her partner, Peng Shuai of China, pushed their top-seeded Italian opponents to the brink, before succumbing in the third round.
Hsieh and Peng lost to Italy’s Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 6-4, 0-6, 7-5 in 2 hours, 10 minutes, denying them a shot at a quarter-final showdown against the Williams sisters.
Additional reporting by staff writer, with CNA