Battling Sharapova advances
Melbourne - Russian third seed Maria Sharapova admitted on Saturday she must improve to stay in the Australian Open after battling through another tough match against France's Alize Cornet.
The four-time Grand Slam champion came out on top 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) in one hour 51 minutes, but her killer instinct deserted her in the second set when she failed to serve out for victory, forcing a tiebreak.
"I think I can take a few positives from this match. One being the fact that I was able to win it not playing my best tennis," she said after setting up a clash with 20th-seeded Slovak Dominika Cibulkova for a place in the quarter-finals.
"There are definitely things I'm going to have to improve and do better moving forward, because it only is going to get tougher."
Sharapova is still on the comeback trail from a shoulder injury and she was also pushed hard in draining heat during her second-round match against Karin Knapp, eventually coming through a marathon third set that went 10-8.
Despite those energy-sapping conditions she showed few ill-effects on Saturday, although in temperatures that were some 20 Celsius cooler she was still using ice vests on the changeovers.
And she admitted that the Knapp match had taken its toll.
"Everyone that played a long match in those conditions is going to feel physically and emotionally tired, and that's the way it goes," she said.
"You just have to find a way to get through it. You know, that's what I did. It was quite tough in the end. I was happy I was able to finish (against Cornet) in two."
Getting past Sharapova was always going to be a big ask for Cornet. She has only beaten a top-10 player twice in her career and had only been beyond the third round once in 31 Grand Slams.
In contrast, the Russian has reached eight major finals and won four, with her last success coming at the French Open in 2012.
The third seed got the match underway serving to love and made an early breakthrough in a tight second game highlighted by a series of entertaining baseline rallies, breaking to go 2-0 ahead when Cornet hooked a forehand long.
Sharapova's serve was finding its mark and she comfortably held before her pinpoint ball placement forced Cornet into a series of errors that allowed her to go 4-0 in front.
But her serving issues returned in the fifth game when a double fault gave Cornet a second break point and she grabbed the opportunity.
Unperturbed, the Russian broke straight back and served out for the set.
Sharapova threw away a chance to ram home her advantage in the third game of the second set, blowing three break points as Cornet fought a rearguard action.
The Frenchwoman, who partnered Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to Hopman Cup success this month, made the most of her reprieve, breaking the third seed with a deft drop shot to take a 3-1 lead.
But she wasted the advantage when she let the Russian break back.
With the finish line in sight, Sharapova got another crucial break in the seventh game to go 4-3 in front. Cornet saved a match point on her serve at 3-5 to keep the tie alive but Sharapova then failed to serve out for the match.
She paid the penalty with the showdown going to a tiebreak.