MELBOURNE: Maria Sharapova denied revenge was a motivating factor behind her shock win over defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki on Friday.
The five-time Grand Slam winner dumped the Dane from the tournament in a three-set thriller 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to claim her biggest scalp since completing a drugs ban in 2017.
At the time, world number three Wozniacki was an outspoken critic of the way the WTA eased Sharapova’s return from the positive test by handing the Russian wildcards to top tournaments.
But Sharapova, who is seeded 30 at Melbourne Park this year as she tries to rejoin the game’s elite, insisted the spat was not on her mind as she bundled out the Dane on Rod Laver Area.
“I just really like winning,” the 31-year-old said. “I’m really happy and proud of the way I competed today and I’m into the fourth round. That’s all that matters.”
The win sets up a last 16 clash with in-form Australian hope Ash Barty for the Russian, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2008 and has reached the final a further three times.
Sharapova said she was thrilled to overcome a player of Wozniacki’s stature.
“I knew I was going to get a really tough match as she’s the defending champion of this event and it’s no secret she loves this arena,” she said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year, especially against top players and these are the ones I train for, so it’s really rewarding to win.”
She has defeated Barty in both their previous meetings but believed the Australian would be a challenge in front of her fanatical home support.
– ‘In the grind’ –
But Sharapova, who once famously summed up her attitude as “I’m not here to make friends”, said she would not let the crowd affect her.
“I know it’s going to be a tough crowd, but I go out here to perform and play tennis,” she said.
There were dramatic momentum shifts in the battle between the two former world number ones, but the decisive period came when Sharapova stormed back from 4-1 down to go on a five-game winning streak and take the first set.
After Wozniacki came back she then broke the Dane late in the third set, screaming “come on” after gaining the advantage.
The Russian rattled Wozniacki with her power hitting, smashing 37 winners to 10.
But her mistakes let the third seed back into the match at crucial moments as she committed 46 unforced errors and made seven double faults.
Wozniacki said Sharapova’s inconsistency made it hard for her to settle into the match.
“She was either making a winner or making a mistake,” the Dane said. “Then I was waiting and I felt like I just lost my rhythm a little bit.”
Sharapova won her last Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2014 and has struggled to rejoin the game’s elite since completing a 15-month ban for failing a drugs test.
She said she was excited ahead of the Wozniacki meeting and enjoyed being on centre court again facing a top opponent.
“I felt very much in the moment… these are really the types of match-ups that I haven’t really had where I could really challenge myself,” she said.
“To be in the grind of things and to really have to figure out a way to be on top is what I missed.”
Her intensity was crucial as Sharapova fought back from a slow start then stamped out Wozniacki’s mid-match revival.