Australian Open '“ Maria Sharapova happy to get back to the grind in Melbourne

Maria Sharapova reminded herself and everyone else she is a big-time match player by ending the reign of Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in the third round.

Russia's Maria Sharapova makes a backhand return to Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki during their third round match in Melbourne. Picture: AP/Kin Cheung

The battle between two of the biggest names in the game did not disappoint but in the end Sharapova’s fierce hitting won the day as she surged to a 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory on Rod Laver Arena.

Wozniacki is the highest-ranked opponent Sharapova has beaten since her first-round victory over Simona Halep at the US Open in 2017.

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That was her first grand-slam tournament appearance after her 15-month doping ban and at the time seemed to be a sign of the Russian’s impending resurgence, but it has not turned out that way – until now.

YOUNG GUNS: Amanda Anisimova celebrates winning match point against Aryna Sabalenka in Melbourne. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images

“It was a good win,” said Sharapova. “I feel pretty happy about it. To be in the grind of things and to really have to figure out a way to be on top is what I missed. I didn’t really get many of those chances.”

There is no love lost between the two players. Wozniacki was one of the most outspoken critics of the way Sharapova was welcomed back to the game following her ban, prompting the Russian’s agent Max Eisenbud to brand Wozniacki a “journeyman player”.

Sharapova refused to brand the victory extra special because of that, saying: “I just really like winning. I’m just really happy and proud of the way I competed today and I’m into the fourth round. So that’s all that matters.”

While Sharapova put herself back in the present conversation, one player labelled as the future of women’s tennis was beaten by an even younger rival on Margaret Court Arena.

Aryna Sabalenka, 20, was many pundits’ pick to win the title but she was blown away 6-3 6-2 by 17-year-old American prodigy Amanda Anisimova, who is the first player born in the 2000s to reach the fourth round of a grand slam and the youngest for more than a decade.

Sharapova will face Australian hope Ashleigh Barty in the next round, while Anisimova takes on in-form eighth seed Petra Kvitova, who defeated Belinda Bencic 6-1 6-4.

Fifth seed Sloane Stephens battled to a 7-6 (8/6) 7-6 (7/5) victory over Petra Martic, while American Danielle Collins reached the fourth round at a slam for the first time with a 6-3 6-2 win against 19th seed Caroline Garcia.