MELBOURNE (Reuters) — Maria Sharapova
continued her erratic Australian Open campaign with a scratchy 6-1 7-6
(8-6) win over Alize Cornet that put her into the last 16 on Saturday
but also sent her straight to the practice court in search of some
sorely needed form.
Still rebuilding from a long layoff due to her troublesome right
shoulder, Sharapova ran hot then cold against the 25th seeded
Frenchwoman, her serve going awry in the hard-fought second set and
only a late rally in the tiebreak saving the Russian from another
In her previous round, Sharapova had battled through the longest
match of her career, a three-hour, 28-minute slug-fest against
unseeded Italian Karin Knapp, played out on a 42 degrees Celsius
(108 Fahrenheit) day.
Fatigue might have been a tempting excuse, but the Russian could
hardly have used it, having felt fit enough to head back out on the
court after a quick rest to iron out some worrying creases in her
"I just didn't have a great rhythm," Sharapova, seeded third, told
reporters after bludgeoning 35 unforced errors and landing only half
of her first serves.
"It's sometimes nice just to be able to come off the court and
groove, just to get a good hit on the ball.
"I still feel like in certain situations I am a bit rusty and I'm
not closing it out when I have to or maybe going for a little much
or overthinking it a bit.
"That will come. I'm not worried about that. Those are the — as long
as I feel like I'm doing the right things and I'm playing the way I
want to play, if I'm making those types of errors, they are going to
go in eventually."
Sharapova's win over Cornet was her seventh match since pulling the
plug on her 2013 season in August, but the 26-year-old has made hard
work of her opening three matches at Melbourne Park, where she won
the 2008 title.
The loss of her once-potent serve since major surgery on her
shoulder six years ago has long been her Achilles heel, and if
her serve against Cornet was any indication, the old injury may
still be weighing heavily.
Broken three times in the second set, the average pace of her
first serves was 153 kph (95 mph) for the match, well down from
her opening two rounds. Her second serve was also markedly
Her decade-long tormentor Serena Williams, by contrast, has only
been broken once and has been serving at an average just under
170 kph for the tournament.
Sharapova next plays Slovak 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova and has
been spared a tougher run by a generous draw that offers eighth
seed Jelena Jankovic as the highest seeded player before the
semi-finals, where double defending champion Victoria Azarenka
looms as the most likely opponent.
The Russian held out little hope of being completely free of the
shoulder problems that have limited her to only one grand slam
title win to the three prior to her major surgery.
"As I said, I think recovery for the rest of my career is going
to be extremely important, making sure I do the right amount of
work to the right amount of rest that I give it," she said. "But
it's feeling good."
(Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington;
by John O'Brien)