By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former champion Maria Sharapova found inspiration in a change of dress to put away unseeded American Lauren Davis 6-1 6-7(5) 6-0 at the Australian Open on Friday and set up an intriguing fourth round match with rising Swiss talent Belinda Bencic.
Up 2-0 in the second set and closing in on victory, the Russian’s serve crumbled, allowing Davis to reel off five consecutive games and eventually capture a tense second set tiebreak.
Fifth seed Sharapova left the court for a lengthy comfort break between sets but re-emerged with a fresh outfit and a renewed focus, and proceeded to hammer the hapless American.
Bashing consecutive aces with her first two serves, Sharapova roared through without dropping a game, closing out the match when her 103rd-ranked opponent swiped a backhand long.
“I don’t have a chat in the mirror, I think I get fined for that,” Sharapova said courtside of her trip to the locker-room.
“I changed my dress and felt a little bit lighter which made me move better. But other than that, that’s all I can share.”
The win was 28-year-old Sharapova’s 600th on tour and the five-time grand slam champion now faces an inter-generational battle against teenager Bencic.
“Yeah, an impressive player,” said Sharapova. “A newer generation that’s already established herself in the past season, beaten a lot of top players.
“It’s a tough fourth round. We haven’t played against each other before, but I’m sure we’ll be playing many times.”
Long touted for big things, 12th seed Bencic was the first player into the round of 16 after fighting back from a set down to overhaul Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the earlier match at Rod Laver Arena.
Easily outstripping her previous second round best at the tournament, Bencic also became the first Swiss woman to reach the fourth round at Melbourne Park since her mentor Martina Hingis and Patty Schnyder in 2007.
The 18-year-old said she was not intimidated by the prospect of playing a five-times grand slam winner as she looks to reach a second quarter-final at a major by matching her breakthrough run at the 2014 U.S. Open.
“I’m very happy to play all these big players,” she said. “That’s what I play for. For sure, I will prepare good and just be really excited.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty/Patrick Johnston)