Two-time Roland-Garros champion Maria Sharapova sent out a message of intent with an emphatic 6-2 6-1 victory over No.6 seed Karolina Pliskova to book her spot in the fourth round.
Sharp Sharapova pounces to oust Pliskova
The two-time champion commanded proceedings to book a 12th Roland Garros fourth round berth.
“I improved quite a lot in this match from my first two rounds. I had to. I didn't really have a choice against a player like her,” reflected Sharapova, having secured hard-fought victories over Richel Hogenkamp and Donna Vekic so far in Paris.
“I guess these are the types of occasions where you want to play really good, solid tennis against a top-10 player that's been playing extremely well. When you're able to deliver that on a Grand Slam stage, I think it makes it extra special.”
In the battle of the former world No.1s, it was Pliskova who stole an instant break, pouncing on the short ball to then arrow a backhand passing shot down the line.
Sharapova sharply found her range and relentless returns arcing onto the baseline sent the Stuttgart champion and Madrid semi-finalist off balance.
Within 16 minutes the Russian had accelerated to a 4-1 lead over Pliskova, her punchy one-two strokes doing the damage.
Such was the confidence of Sharapova, who ruled at Roland-Garros in 2012 and 2014, she struck a left-handed forehand instead of her usual double-handed backhand during a rapid rally. The No.28 seed may not have won that point but soon closed out a commanding opener in half an hour.
At 2-1 Sharapova clinched the pivotal break in the second set; hot on the heels of an errant smash from Pliskova, the five-time Grand Slam champion then connected with a rasping backhand return winner.
“I thought I did a really good job of being aggressive on the return, giving her different looks on the return. I was solid. I played smart. I think I did the right things,” declared the Russian. “I was aggressive on the break points, I went for it. I took the match rather than her giving it to me.”
Within an hour Sharapova had booked a 12th appearance in the Roland-Garros fourth round, where she awaits a potential blockbuster with Serena Williams or Germany's Julia Goerges.
“I think any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against. You know the challenge that is upon you. Despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player. I will look forward to doing that if she wins this one,” added Sharapova, currently down 2-19 in their head-to-head, having last tasted victory against Williams in 2004.
“When I'm facing against Serena or we happen to be in a similar quarter of the draw, there is much more attention toward that. That's not a secret for anyone in this room,” stated a defiant Sharapova.
“No matter the record against her, I still come into this tournament and want to put myself in the position to play against the best. By coming out in the match today and beating the No. 6 in the world, I might have the opportunity to do that. That's what I continue to do. That's why I keep on playing.”
Should Goerges navigate past Williams, Sharapova would enter their fourth round showdown with a favourable 4-0 record against the world No.11.