Melbourne - World number five Maria
Sharapova battled past petite Lauren Davis and into the Australian Open fourth
round on Friday as she edges closer to another showdown with arch-rival Serena
The Russian fifth seed needed two hours, 14
minutes to finally dismantle the hard-working 103rd-ranked American 6-1, 6-7
(5/7), 6-0 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena on a wet Melbourne day.
Sharapova's 600th career win sets her up
with a tough test next up against 12th seed Belinda Bencic, after the dangerous
Swiss teen beat Ukraine's Kateryna Bondarenko.
"In a Grand Slam environment, third
round, against an opponent you have not played before and is fired up,"
Sharapova said, in explaining the second-set wobble.
"I was quite happy I was able to step
it up in the third set."
If Sharapova gets through her next match,
she faces a potential quarter-final with defending champion Williams.
Williams, who plays later on Friday, has
been a huge weight around Sharapova's neck throughout her career, with the
Russian unable to beat her since 2004.
The dismal record was extended at Melbourne
Park last year when the 21-time Grand Slam champion swept past Sharapova in the
Davis, just 1.57m tall, had never been
beyond the third round in four previous attempts at the season-opening Grand
Slam, but she tried hard to fix that with a dogged second-set performance.
Sharapova, a full foot taller than the
22-year-old, had been in scintillating form so far, dropping just seven games
in her opening two matches, and eased herself into the match.
It went with serve until the fourth game
when Davis fired a backhand long to give the Russian her first break point.
With the pressure on, the pint-sized
American couldn't cope with Sharapova's return serve and sent a wild forehand
over the baseline to go 3-1 behind.
A winner here in 2008 and a three-time
runner-up, the seasoned Sharapova, sweat dripping, held to love and then
comfortably broke again.
The steely-eyed Russian was in no mood to
give an inch and she served for the set in just 26 minutes.
She continued to pressure the Davis serve
and got the break she was after in the third game of the second set.
But her concentration waned and Davis got
her first break point of the match, with Sharapova's backhand into the net
levelling it at 2-2.
Buoyed, the American stunned the fifth seed
by breaking her again in the sixth game on a double fault.
Another break for the Russian hauled her
back into the set and it went with serve to a tense tiebreak, which included an
epic 27-shot rally. Davis finally won the set when Sharapova sent a forehand
The Russian went for a toilet break to
compose herself and came back refreshed, holding serve and breaking to go 2-0
in front before another break in the fourth game put her on the way to victory
as Davis faded.
Earlier, the rapidly improving Bencic, who
won two titles in 2015, beat Bondarenko 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
The Swiss, a product of the tennis school
run Martina Hingis' mother Melanie Molitor, finished 2015 at a career-high
ranking of 14 after a breakthrough season that also included beating Williams