Second seed Maria Sharapova sent rising star Eugenie Bouchard into a tailspin with an imperious display Tuesday, setting up an Australian Open women’s semi-final with enigmatic fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, 27, flicked aside the Canadian seventh seed 6-3, 6-2 in their glamour quarter-final clash as her quest for a second Australian title gathers pace.
But she faces an unknown quantity in dark horse Makarova, seeded 10th, who humiliated third seed Simona Halep in a 6-4, 6-0 mauling that crushed the Romanian’s renowned fighting spirit.
Sharapova won the Australian title in 2008 and can seize the world number one ranking off arch-rival Serena Williams if she repeats the feat this year.
She was expected to face a tough battle against Bouchard, the photogenic 20-year-old constantly compared to Sharapova and hyped as the leading light in a group of young guns destined for Grand Slam success.
AFP / Mal Fairclough
Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard committed 30 unforced errors and two double faults in her 6-3, 6-2 quarter-final defeat to Russia’s Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open in Melbourne, on January 27, 2015
But the reigning French Open champion was never troubled, taking her career record against Bouchard to 4-0, including a semi-final at Roland Garros last year.
Sharapova said she was steadily improving after surviving a major scare in the second round, when she was one point away from an early exit.
“Am I happy that I was able to lift my game after having a couple of matches where I wasn’t satisfied? Yeah, absolutely,” she said.
– Dangerous lefty –
Bouchard made too many mistakes going for big winners, resulting in an early break that Sharapova never relinquished.
“I didn’t start well and it kind of all went downhill from there,” the Canadian admitted, ruing a number of break point opportunities that were overhit in her eagerness to take the fight to Sharapova.
AFP / Mal Fairclough
Russia’s Maria Sharapova (left) shakes hands after victory in her women’s quarter-final singles match against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, on January 27, 2015
Bouchard committed 30 unforced errors and two double faults, burying her head in her hands at the changeover before Sharapova put an end to her misery after one hour 17 minutes.
The other day-nine match-up was even more one-sided as Makarova demolished Halep, who admitted she froze on the big stage in her second straight Australian Open quarter-final.
“Sometimes you cannot manage the situation. I tried. I did everything I could this match,” she said. “But just mentally during the points maybe I didn’t fight very well.”
Makarova, 26, has made the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park twice previously but never before advanced to the semis in seven attempts.
“I love it, it’s a great feeling that I came through,” she said.
Makarova has ghosted through the draw without dropping a set on the way to the semis, ruthlessly disposing of opponents while shunning the spotlight.
AFP / PAUL CROCK
Russia’s Maria Sharapova plays a shot during her women’s quarter-final match against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard at the Australian Open in Melbourne, on January 27, 2015
“I’m not shy on the tennis court. It’s a big stage,” she said told reporters. “It’s a different situation, maybe, to when I’m sitting here and you’re asking me questions.
“But over there, yeah, I’m showing my best tennis. That’s what I’m really love to do and for what I’m living actually. It’s really enjoyable time out there.”
Sharapova has a 5-0 record over Makarova but said the left-hander was always difficult, particularly since she would be entering Thursday’s semi with no expectations weighing her down.
“That’s always a tricky situation because she’s going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that’s dangerous,” she said..
“I haven’t faced a lefty in this tournament yet. She’s been using her lefty serve extremely well from what I’ve seen. I’ll be looking out for that, work on a few things.”