Maria Sharapova and Belinda Bencic will be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers when they clash in round four of the Australian Open on Sunday. Bencic enjoyed breakout 2014 and 2015 campaigns on the WTA Tour, but she lost in the second round of this tournament two seasons ago and in the first round last year. So her run Down Under this time around has to feel especially satisfying for the 18-year-old Swiss. It has come at the expense of Alison Riske, Timea Babos, and Kateryna Bondarenko, with only Bondarenko taking a set along the way.
“(She’s) an impressive player,” Sharapova assured. “A newer generation that’s already established herself in the past season; beaten a lot of top players. It’s a tough fourth round. We haven’t played against each other before, but I’m sure we’ll be playing many times. It’s great that we can start here.”
For the most part Sharapova had no trouble setting up the first-ever showdown between these two players. She has won six of her seven sets so far this fortnight by scorelines no closer than 6-3. The Russian has won five of those by 6-2 or worse. Only Lauren Davis during third-round action Friday managed to steal a set, which she did in a tiebreaker. Sharapova preceded that victory by beating Nao Hibino and Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The former world No. 1 is a one-time champion of this event (2008) and has reached the final on three other occasions.
“I’m very happy to play all these big players,” Bencic commented. “That’s what I play for. For sure Iwill prepare good and just be really excited.”
The fans should be excited for this one, too, because it will almost certainly produce stellar tennis. Both women are confident and in fine form. The difference will likely be experience. Prior to this Australian Open, Bencic had fewer Grand Slam match wins in her entire career (13) than Sharapova earned last season alone (14). In the pressure moments, the No. 5 will be too tough.
Prediction – Sharapova in three sets