Maria Sharapova had to work harder than ever at the Australian Open. Her fourth round battle with Belinda Bencic didn’t come easy but she held things in straight sets with a 7-5, 7-5 win at Rod Laver Arena Sunday afternoon to move into the quarterfinals for an eight career time.
It was the biggest competition for Sharapova this season and one she will not get through unless she digs deep to beat one of the up and comers in the sport. Bencic is till on high after her defeat of Serena Williams at the Rogers Cup back on August 15. With her running through opponents well including fight to victory against Kateryna Bondarenko, beating Sharapova in their first meeting would repeat a second meeting against the defending champion.
So far the Russian has been very good handling lower ranked opponents but she received a challenge deep in the match against Lauren Davis before recovering with a shutout in the third set. With the warm up of fights from future opponents, the 2008 champ would be well aware of who she is coming up against.
Sharapova had a good start to the set dictating well on the serve to end the game with a winning strike setting the bar high for Bencic. She fought well while on serve battling through two breaks before holding firm to win the game point. The pattern went through four games with the Swiss teen fighting on her serve to get some leverage. While she wasn’t able to, her tenacity was rewarded with a winner keeping the score even.
A big statement from Bencic came in the form of breaking Sharapova on serve to take a 3-2 lead in the set. Sharapova answered in the sixth but problems in the seventh killed her chance to regain control. She caught back with Bencic through eight making the chance for the lead closer, yet more difficult to attain.
Stepping things up in the ninth, Sharapova pressured Bencic with such force that gave her the 5-4 hold to play for the set. Just when she though the game would be easy, the Swiss teen charged forward to force the fifth seed into deuce. She nearly had the game winner after two breaks but a decision to go for the drop shot went against her falling just before the net.
Gaining back the advantage on the third break worked well in the end with Sharapova sending the ball long. Mistakes were clouding the Russians game at every moment of the 11th game. Competing through four breaks of serve, Sharapova took the 6-5 lead to play for the set a second time with Bencic on service.
A double break on her third set point, the Russian made an important point hers to end the set in one hour and four minutes. She had 23 unforced errors and three double faults during her path to victory, which helped with eight aces across court including 34 winners.
Hoping that the good parts of her game would rise above in the second set, they didn’t as Bencic was still in fighting mode to even things through two games. Both got into a seesaw fight towards the midway point where neither could find a way to break the monotony of one another. Sharapova’s flawless love service in the seventh didn’t break Bencic in the eighth as the Swiss teen leveled up a fourth time.
With the set coming close to an end, the fifth seed knew that closing out things fast would require a dominating rush to gain the lead and never let it go. She did so in the ninth putting her on play for the match, but with Bencic serving at that critical point, it was not going to be easy. Bencic denied her the easy way out pushing the set to another few games that would determine the match’s direction.
Sharapova pulled out all the stops to take the 11th game to go into position to take the match from Bencic. The Russian nearly had it on lock but unforced errors made her pay the price and work for it on deuce. After to pushes for control, it came down to a challenge with the ball landing on the line to give Sharapova the victory. “This must be the first match I’ve won on a challenge but it felt like a clean ball and it was on the line,” Sharapova said during her on court interview with Rene Stubbs.
It took her much longer than she wished finishing things in two hours and five minutes. Though it was never easy, Sharapova had a match high 21 aces, 58 winners and a 85 percent success on the first serve. All those accomplishment were key to having beaten one of the strong youngsters to play on the WTA tour.
“These are the players who will take our spot but not just yet,” Sharapova joked. “I was really focused today and I knew that she has a great game and really great season so its always great to play against a player that’s been coming up for a first time.” Things wont be on a first time moment as she’ll face the winner between Serena Williams and Margarita Gasparyan where only a change to the ending of the match will determine what Sharapova will have to do to move on.