Maria Sharapova’s hopes of a title-winning return to the Australian Open were unceremoniously crushed by Angelique Kerber as the battle of the former champions ended 6-1 6-3 in the German’s favour on Saturday.
The Rod Laver Arena evening clash between the only two grand slam winners left in the women’s draw had the feel of a showpiece final rather than a third-round clash but it was Kerberwho rose to the occasion.
Sharapova, back in Melbourne after testing positive for a banned substance here in 2016 resulting in a 15-month ban, had looked menacing in the opening two rounds.
But Kerber, who plummeted down the rankings last year after finishing the year before at number one, broke her serve in the first game of the match and that set the tone for what followed.
She streaked away with the first set and although 2008 champion Sharapova briefly threatened a fightback after falling behind in the second, it was not to be the Russian’s night.
A fluffed drop shot attempt at 3-4 followed by an unforced error gave 2016 champion Kerber breathing space and she finished the contest in the next game.