Maria Sharapova has not won the Australian Open (once) as many times as she has triumphed at Roland Garros (twice), but the Happy Slam has been her most consistent major. Sharapova has reached at least the semifinals on seven occasions, has played in the final four times, and lifted the trophy in 2008. The Russian has made it to at least the semis in three of her last four trips Down Under. She has not lost prior to the fourth round since 2010, a stretch of five appearances. The world No. 5 has advanced to at least the fourth round of seven consecutive slams, last losing in the Wimbledon second round in 2013.
Sharapova is off to a dominant start this time around. The five-time major champion crushed Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-3 in her opener before cruising past Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday.
Up next for Sharapova on Friday is a first-ever meeting with Lauren Davis. The 22-year-old American registers at No. 103 in the world, just barely managing to gain direct entry into the main draw without having to go through qualifying. She booked her spot in the last 32 by upsetting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets before getting a retirement from Magdalena Rybarikova following a victorious first set (9-7 in a tiebreaker). Davis warmed up for this tournament by playing in both Auckland and Sydney, losing in the final round of qualifying in each case.
“I haven’t faced [her] before,” Sharapova commented. “I think my focus has to be on myself and on my game; just improving and getting better.”
Davis has never been past the third round of a Grand Slam. She also made it this far in Melbourne two years ago before doing the same that summer at Wimbledon. Although she stands at just 5-foot-2, Davis swings out on just about every shot and wields considerable power. But that can get het in trouble when she is going for winners from defensive positions, and she is sure to be in those situations frequently against an opponent of Sharapova’s caliber.
Prediction – Sharapova in straight sets