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French Open

Fired-up Sharapova blasts her way past Pliskova as comeback continues at French Open

Russian star turns in her best performance since returning to the circuit as she eased into the last 16 and a possible encounter with American Serena Williams

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 11:23pm

Maria Sharapova powered into the last 16 yesterday by crushing sixth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1 in the French Open third round on Saturday.

In the men’s event, Rafael Nadal swept into the round of 16 with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over France’s Richard Gasquet. Five-time grand slam champion Sharapova produced one of her best performances since returning from a doping ban, cruising 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 59 minutes. She will next face either 23-time grand slam champion Williams or German 11th seed Julia Goerges, who were playing over night, 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 rivals in the process.

Former champion Garbine Muguruza reached the last 16 with a comfortable 6-0, 6-2 win over Australia’s Sam Stosur.

Spanish third seed Muguruza, the 2016 winner in Paris and the reigning Wimbledon champion, fired 15 winners past Stosur, the 34-year-old 2010 runner-up and former US Open champion.

After wrapping up the first set in just 25 minutes, Stosur only got on the board in the third game of the second. “I knew this would be very tough against a former US Open winner and a player who has made the final here,” said 24-year-old Muguruza.

“If I didn’t play my best tennis, I realised that it would be very hard,” she said.

“Coming back here to Court Philippe Chatrier where I won two years ago always brings special feelings inside me.”

The Spaniard goes on to face Lesia Tsurenko, of Ukraine, who knocked out Slovakian 19th seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-4.

Tsurenko has now reached the last 16 in Paris for the first time, equalling her best run at a Slam at the 2016 US Open.