Australian Open: Angelique Kerber beats Maria Sharapova in straight sets

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Kerber beats Sharapova in straight sets
2018 Australian Open
Dates: 15-28 January Venue: Melbourne Park
Coverage: Watch highlights on BBC Two, the BBC Sport website and app. Live commentary on the best matches on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and online.

Angelique Kerber produced a superb performance to beat Maria Sharapova and confirm herself as a title contender at the Australian Open.

The German 21st seed won 6-1 6-3 in the much-anticipated night-session clash between the only two former champions left in the draw.

She needed just 64 minutes to see off Sharapova, breaking serve five times.

Kerber, the 2016 winner, will play Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei, ranked 88th in the world, in the fourth round.

"I know Maria is always fighting," said Kerber.

"After the first set, I was trying to not thinking about the score, just going for it, trying to be aggressive and playing my game.

"And it works. It works from the beginning. I'm happy about how I played tonight."

The 30-year-old is coached by Wim Fissette after the Belgian split with Johanna Konta at the end of last year, and she arrived in Melbourne having won the Sydney title.

Her speed of foot and ability to return Sharapova's pace with interest left the Russian struggling from the outset.

A fizzing return at Sharapova's feet brought an immediate break of serve and a roar of "Come on!" followed after a backhand winner took her 3-1 clear.

The harder and flatter Sharapova tried to hit the ball, the quicker it came back at her.

Kerber raced through six straight games, taking the first set in 29 minutes and breaking at the start of the second.

Sharapova needed a helping hand and she got it when Kerber finally made a string of errors to hand the advantage back.

It was only the 21st seed's brilliant defence that prevented her falling a break down at 3-3 as Sharapova threatened a sustained challenge.

A fist pump followed that crucial hold and Sharapova's resistance was broken once and for all, a poor drop shot and a netted forehand giving up a fifth break of serve before Kerber closed it out on her second match point.

"I think she played extremely well," said Sharapova. "She was the more aggressive player. She took a lot more risks than I did."

Sharapova had returned to the Australian Open for the first time since failing a doping test in Melbourne two years ago, which brought with it a 15-month ban.

"There's a lot of things I need to improve on," added the world number 48. "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."

Aggressive Kerber too strong for Sharapova - analysis

BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller at Melbourne Park

Since the start of the year, Kerber has played 12 singles matches and won 12 singles matches. The wins at the Hopman Cup team exhibition event are not officially recorded, but there is no doubt the German is playing as if it is 2016 all over again.

Kerber's fitness, and ability to chase down virtually every ball, has never been in doubt, but now she is once again playing with bags of aggression. And it won't have escaped Kerber's attention that she is the last remaining Grand Slam champion in the women's draw.

Sharapova has played fewer than 30 matches since she returned from a doping ban nine months ago, and looks as if she needs more time on court to become a genuine contender again.

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