Maria Sharapova is as honest as they come when assessing her own performances, and the 2008 Australian Open champion won’t be pleased with anything other than her early form and resourcefulness in her 6-1 7-6(6) victory over France’s Alize Cornet in the third round on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Sharapova played a reasonably clean first set in the third round match, but was all over the place in the second set and only managed to take it because Cornet handed back one opportunity after another.
“I think I can take a few positives from this match,” Sharapova said. “One being the fact that I was able to win it not playing my best tennis. 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 has been struggling with her service game since the tournament began, but can usually count on her huge returns and groundstrokes to get her out of trouble.
The scrappy Cornet, who reached the fourth round of the 2009 Australian Open before missing two match points against eventual finalist Dinara Safina, has worked hard to become a relevant player again, and while she played ambitiously against Sharapova, she wasn't able to cash in.
Sharapova was broken three times in the second set and couldn't convert her first match point at 5-3, or close the match out when serving for it at 5-4.
With Cornet serving at 3-5, Sharapova dumped a backhand at match point and the Frenchwoman eventually held.
In the next game with Sharapova serving at deuce, Cornet rolled a beautiful forehand crosscourt that Sharapova couldn't handle, and then the Russian double-faulted to hand back the break, one of six double faults she served during the set.
Sharapova broke again to 6-5 with an inside-out forehand winner, but the quick-footed Frenchwoman broke back to 6-6 behind a nifty backhand drop volley and a Sharapova backhand error.
After Sharapova committed two straight forehand errors, Cornet held a set point in the tie-breaker at 6-5, but Sharapova caressed a drop shot and followed it up with swing volley winner. She followed it up belting a forehand return crosscourt that Cornet couldn't handle.
On Sharapova’s second match point, Cornet flew a forehand long and threw her hands up in disgust.
Four-time major winner Sharapova ended the match with 35 winners, but also committed an equal amount of unforced errors.
She was so upset with her display that she went out to practice after the match, something she rarely does.
“I just didn't have a great rhythm,” Sharapova said. “It's sometimes nice just to be able to come off the court and groove, just to get a good hit on the ball.
“Conditions were a little bit tricky from one end, and, you know, balls were flying a bit. I just wanted to get a good rhythm again.”
Sharapova will play Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round. She holds a 3-2 edge in the rivalry, but the two have never faced off on hard courts.
“She's a great retriever of the ball,” Sharapova said of Cibulkova.
“It's going to be a very physical match. She likes to make it physical. That's when she plays her best. Obviously I don't want to go there with her but she's a tough opponent, that's for sure. She plays a lot of top players extremely well and tough and has nothing to lose, so I'm expecting a tough one the next round.”