Maria Sharapova wanted to test her level against the leading players but found the answer a rather brutal one as she took just four games off a rejuvenated Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Australian Open.
Kerber is fast looking like the favourite for the women’s title and played at a very high level throughout the 6-1 6-3 victory, which lasted only 64 minutes.
Sharapova said she would not shy away from the work needed to try to get back to grand slam-winning level after her 15-month doping ban.
“There’s a lot of things I need to improve on,” she said. “This is a process. It’s a lot of things that take time. To be able to get these matches, players that are playing this well, I’m going to face a lot of them this year. I’ll have to bring it. Today was not enough.”
The match was a clash between the only two former champions in the draw and Kerber is looking ominously like the player who won her maiden slam in Melbourne two years ago before going on to win Wimbledon and finish 2016 as world number one.
She endured such a torrid year in 2017 that she dropped outside the top 20 but the confidence she has gained from an unbeaten start to this season was very evident against Sharapova.
She said: “I was really trying to not think about everything around and everything about the match, against who I’m playing. I was just more trying to go out on a special court for me and playing again good tennis.”
Simona Halep said she was “almost dead” and needed sleep and chocolate after surviving 48 games and saving three match points in a 4-6 6-4 15-13 victory over American Lauren Davis.
After breaking Halep three times when she served for the match, 78th-ranked Davis had the Romanian at 0-40 and trailing 10-11 but could not take any of the chances.
Davis then began to struggle with two toenails that were falling off and she eventually ran out of puff as Halep finally served out the victory at the fourth time of asking after three hours and 44 minutes.
“I thought it’s over at that moment,” said Halep of the match points. “But it was good because I relaxed my arm and I served pretty well those three balls. At 13-13 when I took the game, I said it’s my lucky number. So it’s going to be two in a row now.”
Halep used to be known for getting very down on herself at tough moments but has worked hard with coach Darren Cahill on staying positive.
She said: “I think in the past I wouldn’t have fought that hard. Maybe when she had the match balls, maybe I would have lost it. It makes me really happy that I changed myself in a good way.”
At 5ft 2in for Davis and 5ft 6in for Halep, it was a contest between two of the smaller women on the tour, but what they lack in height they more than make up for in speed and agility.
“I have always looked up to her and I think we have shown the world that we can be the best,” said Davis.
Halep next faces big-hitting Japanese-American Naomi Osaka, who won the battle of the exciting young talents convincingly 6-4 6-2 against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty to reach the fourth round of a slam for the first time.
Sixth seed Karolina Pliskova won one all-Czech battle against Lucie Safarova and faces another one against Barbora Strycova while eighth seed Caroline Garcia will take on US Open finalist Madison Keys.