Paris: Maria Sharapova set up a potential last-16 clash with Serena Williams by crushing sixth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1 in the French Open third round on Saturday.
The five-time Grand Slam champion produced one of her best performances since returning from a doping ban, cruising to a totally one-sided win in her first match on Court Philippe Chatrier for three years.
"I knew I had to play well against a tough opponent. I managed to stay aggressive and I played smart as well," said Sharapova, who delighted a half-full Chatrier by thanking them for their support in French.
The Russian, winner in Paris in 2012 and 2014, is seeded at a major for the first time since testing positive for meldonium two years ago.
A fired-up Sharapova powered 18 winners past her fellow former world number one Pliskova, with the Czech never threatening any resistance in a match which lasted just 59 minutes.
She will next face either 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams or German 11th seed Julia Goerges, who play later on Saturday, in the fourth round.
Sharapova and Serena have met 21 times, with the American leading the head-to-head record 19-2 after 18 consecutive wins dating back to 2004.
Sharapova had struggled on serve in her opening wins over Richel Hogenkamp and Donna Vekic, and she was broken in the very first game of the match.
But the Russian, now ranked 30 in the world, utterly dominated the rest of the match against her passive opponent.
She showed guile as well as power too, bringing up match point with a perfect backhand drop shot, perhaps sending a warning to Serena in the process.
US Open champion Sloane Stephens clung on for dear life to reach the fourth round with a 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 victory over Italian Camila Giorgi.
The American 10th seed had dropped just six games in her previous two matches and stepped onto a sunbathed Court 18 holding a perfect record against Italian opponents at majors.
But such statistics mattered little to Giorgi and she left Stephens yelling “What the hell’s going on?” after breaking the American to go 6-5 up in the final set.
Giorgi came into the contest knowing she had the game to trouble the American, having won their last two encounters in straight sets, and it was no different on Saturday as she served for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5.
But Stephens kept her nerve to break back on both occasions and was mightily relieved when she saw Giorgi’s backhand zip beyond the baseline on her first match point.
Stephens will hope her body does not suffer too much fatigue from the two hours 26 minutes tussle as she will be back on court on Sunday for a showdown with Czech Petra Kvitova’s conqueror, Estonian 25th seed Anett Kontaveit.
Khachanov downs Pouille
Hard-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov knocked out France’s number one player Lucas Pouille 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the third round after the rain-hit match resumed on Saturday.
Khachanov, who will be in the last-16 for the second year in a row, always had 15th seed Pouille on the back foot and now takes on German ‘wunderkind’ Alexander Zverev.
The match was interrupted by rain on Friday with world number 38 Khachanov having won the first two sets and the Russian was just as focused when play started again on Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday.
“It was tough to be interrupted, you think about the match all night, it was really difficult for the both of us,” said Khachanov, who had already beaten Pouille in the final of the Marseille Open this year.
Khachanov trains in Spain and has a lot of claycourt practice under his belt which told against Pouille, who appeared exhausted on Friday after just two sets.
The Frenchman had threatened a comeback in the second set when he broke for 4-2, but Khachanov stayed ice cool and broke back, then won 11 of the 17 remaining games.
He ended the contest with an exquisite lob to claim an emphatic win.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2018 18:48 PM