MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Maria Sharapova recovered from the longest, hottest match of her career to beat Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (8-6) Saturday and reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Sharapova’s boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, progressed to the second week at a major for the first time when he converted his fifth match point to beat No. 11-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (12-10).
The 22-year-old Bulgarian, considered one of the up-and-coming players on the men’s tour, is starting to live up to expectations.
“First time for me to be in second week, so I guess I’ll see you guys next week,” the No. 22-seeded Dimitrov told the crowd at a packed Margaret Court Arena.
He has been sometimes referred to as the mini Roger Federer, due their similar styles and single-handed backhands. Even Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam winner, told a news conference after his 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Teymuraz Gabashvili that everyone in the locker room was watching the Dimitrov-Raonic match.
Dimitrov will next play Roberto Bautista Agut, who followed his upset second-round win over No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 third-round triumph over No. 27 Benoit Paire.
Three-time finalist Andy Murray reached the fourth round for the sixth straight year with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 26-seeded Feliciano Lopez.
The Wimbledon champion, playing only his second tournament since minor back surgery in September, was only broken once in a 2-hour, 15-minute match and next faces Stefane Robert, who is into the fourth round for the first time after beating Martin Klizan.
Sharapova’s third-round match was played in high humidity but in temperatures of about 22 C, considerably cooler than the scorching 42 C conditions she endured for 3 hours, 28 minutes in her second-round win over Karin Knapp two days earlier.
Again, though, Sharapova struggled to close out. She took 50 minutes between her first and last match points against Knapp, and needed almost a half-hour to finish off Cornet — she missed a match point with a wayward backhand on the Frenchwoman’s serve and then got broken twice while trying to serve out.
Sharapova will next play Dominika Cibulkova, who beat No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-0 in 59 minutes.
Kurumi Nara was knocked out after a 6-4, 7-5 third-round defeat to former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia.
Nara led eighth-seeded Jankovic 5-2 in the second set, but she lost the next five games in the 98-minute match to miss out on reaching the last 16 of a Grand Slam event for the first time.
“I didn’t play badly,” said the unseeded Nara, who had reached the third round after a surprise 6-4, 6-3 win over Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova, the 32nd seed.
“I made mistakes in the second set but I was in a situation where I had to go on the offensive.”
Federer produced a routine win to follow his detour to Hisense Arena in the second round.
He is seeded sixth at this Australian Open, his lowest seeding in more than a decade.
Kei Nishikori advanced to the 4th round of the Australian Open for the third consecutive year with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 victory over American Donald Young on Saturday.
Nishikori, the 16th seed, defeated his 91st-ranked opponent in 1 hour, 47 minutes.
His round-of-16 opponent will be world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 winner over France’s Gael Monfils.
Nishikori has yet to beat the Spaniard in five career meetings. Their most recent match was in the round of 16 at last year’s French Open, which Nadal went on to win.
“He’s the strongest of any players I’ve faced,” Nishikori said of Nadal. “I want to try to play like (Novak) Djokovic does and battle him without retreating behind the baseline.”