aria Sharapova made life tough for herself before progressing to the fourth round at the Australian Open with a milestone win over American Lauren Davis.
The fifth seed dominated the first set but then had to see off a stern challenge from Davis, currently ranked No.103 in the world, before prevailing 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena on Friday.
The five-time grand slam champion lost just two points on her serve in the first set while breaking Davis twice, but her touch deserted her in the second as the American warmed to her task.
“I felt like I made it a little bit more difficult than I should have,” Sharapova said.
“I definitely had a let up (in the second set) … I felt like I was hitting the ball well, doing the right things to get in that position, then let up.
“In a grand slam environment against anyone you can’t expect to get away with it, and I didn’t.
“But overall I’m really happy with how I came out in the third and stepped up.”
A 27-shot rally was the highlight of the tense tiebreak but that was the end of Davis’ challenge.
Sharapova got back into a groove with her service game in the third set and put the pressure back on her opponent’s serve, which was broken three times on her way to a bagel.
The Russian right-hander’s 600th career win set up a meeting with 12th seed Belinda Bencic after the Swiss teen scored a 4-6 6-2 6-4 win over Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko.
Appearing in her third Open, Bencic struggled early to find her rhythm on Rod Laver Arena on Friday.
But she regrouped to become the first player through to the fourth round in the women’s draw, a career-best for her at Melbourne Park.
“Definitely today it was a hard piece of work for me,” Bencic said.
“What I did in the first set wasn’t enough, so I knew I had to play much better in the second and third sets.
“I still tried to believe even though it wasn’t perfect in the first set.”
It was the first women’s match to go to three sets on Rod Laver Arena at this Open, with Bencic converting her third match point in just under two hours.
Bondarenko, a former world No.29, was contesting her first Australian Open since 2012 after taking time off to have a baby.
Steady rain in Melbourne meant both matches were played under the closed roof of Rod Laver Arena.
Over on Hisense Arena, unseeded German Anna-Lena Friedsam upset No.13 seed Roberta Vinci to progress to the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time.
Vinci, who famously defeated Serena Williams in a semi-final at last year’s US Open, dealt her opponent a bagel in the first set but a resurgent Friedsam turned the tables to record a 0-6 6-4 6-4 win.
Friedsam will meet either fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska or unseeded Puerto Rican Monica Puig in the next round.
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