Angelique Kerber continued her march towards a second Australian Open crown with a clinical third-round victory over five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova.
The 2016 champion made just 7 unforced errors, holding serve in all but one game, before cruising to a 6-1 6-3 win in an hour and four minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
The much-hyped contest between the two former Australian champions and World No 1s proved to be an anti-climax, and the result left Kerber as the only remaining Grand Slam winner in the women’s draw.
I have so many great memories from this court. I came out and I was trying to enjoy every point Angelique Kerber
The German is on a 12-match winning streak after winning 4 matches at the Hopman Cup and 5 while winning the Sydney International.
This was Sharapova’s first appearance at the Australian Open since 2016, when she tested positive for meldonium and later was handed a 15-month ban.
She came into this match with a 4-3 career lead in matches against the German, but Kerber had won their past two matches, including at Wimbledon in 2014.
Kerber endured a nightmare 2017 after winning the Australian Open and US Open titles in 2016 and climbing to World No 1, and, given the wobbles endured by the top seeds this week, and the wide open nature of the draw, the German is fast establishing herself as the title favourite.
Sharapova was looking to see how her level compared to the top players and, in the first set, the answer was not very well, since Kerber was quicker, sharper and far more consistent from the outset, allowing her opponent just 3 of 14 points on her first serve.
When Kerber moved 2-0 ahead in the second set, it seemed the match that had been billed as a potential classic would turn into an embarrassing rout, but Sharapova’s competitive instinct kicked in and she dug deep to retrieve the break and gain a foothold.
it was not to be the Russian’s night, however, and a fluffed drop shot attempt at 3-4 followed by an unforced error gave Kerber enough breathing space to finish the contest in the next game.
Sharapova simply could not find sufficient consistency to match Kerber’s excellence and the 21st seed did not falter, raising her arms in the air with glee when Sharapova pulled a backhand well wide, her 26th unforced error of the match.
“I have so many great memories from this court,” the 30-year-old German said. “I came out and I was trying to enjoy every point.
“Maria’s a champion, she played so good the last few weeks. I was really trying to play my game. I was really happy we have 2018 and not 2017.
“I learned a lot from the last 24 months. I had a great 2016 and last year was tougher but everyone who knows me knows I never give up.”
Kerber will face Su-Wei Hsieh in the fourth round, the last match on Margaret Court Arena.
Hsieh stunned the Polish 26th seed by taking the first set 6-2 in just 31 minutes, continuing the remarkable form that eliminated the third seed, Garbiñe Muguruza, in the previous round.
At the change-over, Radwanska called for the trainer for a left knee injury and took a medical timeout to get the area strapped.
The 32-year old player from Chinese Taipei hits with disguise, striking the ball double-handed off both wings but also able to swing single-handed with deceptive slice in a style that takes some getting used to.
It bamboozled Radwanska, who herself uses guile rather strength to win her matches, and at times she was completely out of her comfort zone.
She had chances to break in the opening game of the second set but Hsieh prevailed, then got into an argument with the chair umpire over a disputed point that prompted the Supervisor, Britain’s Claire Wood, to intervene and was eventually replayed, but she was broken anyway.
Hsieh meanwhile calmly was saving the moth population, one by one, by removing them from the play area, adding to the Pole’s increasing frustration.
Radwanska appealed to the umpire over the moths to no avail and although she conjured up break points for 15-40, Hsieh drove her way out of trouble on both.
She got another chance when Hsieh struck long and Radwanska scooped up the game when the Taiwanese hit wide.
Back on serve, a calmer Radwanska held to level at 2 games all as Hsieh’s unforced error increased.
Running ragged, Radwanska found herself three break points down, again, as a determined Hsieh struck for the corners, and she dropped her serve by netting her response to a well-disguised drop shot.
In an incredible point, both pushed to the limit over 18 shots that Radwanska, needing all her skills, won with a bold lob to the baseline for 0-30.
Hsieh recovered to 30-30 but floated a forehand wide to offer a precious break point and it took an incredible exchange of spin, lobs and groundies before Radwanska secured it with a deep pass down the line into the corner.
Fighting hard, the Pole held to level at 4-all, only for Hsieh to hold to love to go up 5-4, stopping the run of games by her opponent.
Serving to stay in the match, Radwanska’s first delivery deserted her at the outset, forcing her to track down every ball and at 30-30, when the chips were down, a Hsieh challenge on the baseline went the Pole’s way and she blasted a forehand to level for 5 games all.
A couple of bold returns brought up deuce but Radwanska netted her backhand when it mattered most and Hsieh neatly saw off the challenge to move ahead.
Radwanska, making increasing forays to the net, went up 30-0 but the Taiwanese levelled with a disguised forehand down the line and a magnificent lob, and then sliced and diced an error to conjure up match point.
The Pole saved it with a fine serve sent long, but failed to hold by delivering a double on her advantage.
A forehand sent wide offered up a second match point, which Hsieh, drawing Radwanska in, snatched with a tricky dink as the Pole netted a difficult volley.
The unconventional Hsieh, who followed up the finest win of her career with an impressive 6-2 7-5 win over Radwanska in an hour and 39 minutes, now takes on Kerber.