Sharapova revels in smooth progress
Judging by her broad smile and the high fives exchanged by her entourage you might have thought that Maria Sharapova had claimed her third Grand Slam title rather than a straight-sets victory over a lowly ranked veteran in the second round of the Australian Open. Lindsay Davenport, however, is not your typical world No 51 and Sharapova, after her
annus horribilis in 2007, believes that good times are around the corner again.
Not much went right for Sharapova from the moment she stepped on court to face Serena Williams in the final here 12 months ago. The Russian suffered the heaviest defeat of her Grand Slam career, winning only three games, and was then dogged by a shoulder injury. A single title at San Diego, sandwiched between early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open, constituted her lowest return for five years, although a good showing at the end-of-season Sony Ericsson Championships, where she lost in the final to Justine Henin, brought encouragement for the new year.
The 2004 Wimbledon champion is resigned to shoulder problems – she has lengthy treatment every day and says the likelihood of waking up free of pain is "pretty much impossible" – but the potency of her serve in a 6-1, 6-3 victory over her fellow former world No 1 was evidence of how well she is managing her condition.
"It's nice to be able to serve without worrying about my shoulder," she said. "Ever since my shoulder got better I've been able to spend more time on the court, not just on the serve, but hitting groundstrokes and just working on the court, going out and putting the net up and playing tennis."
Sharapova had been eagerly awaiting the chance to play Davenport, who had won three of the four tournaments she had entered after making a comeback following the birth of her first child in June. "Ever since I saw a potential match-up with her I was getting ready for it," Sharapova said. "I didn't treat it like a second-round match. I treated it as maybe a semi-final or a final."
Davenport, who has never been the best mover, was given such a run-around that she might have been towing baby Jagger's pram behind her as Sharapova sent her scurrying from one side of the court to the other.
"I wanted to play well here and it didn't happen," Davenport said, adding that she had been impressed by Sharapova, but still regarded Henin as the favourite here.
Sharapova's form clearly pleased her watching father, Yuri, who looked more intimidating than ever in a camouflage "hoodie" top. His daughter said afterwards: "I swear he's a really nice guy, but I told him: 'You look like an assassin with that jacket on. You can wear it, but don't put the hood on.' But he has a cold and he told me that he had to put the hood on."
The top half of the women's draw is stacked with big names and Henin, Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Amélie Mauresmo all joined Sharapova in the third round by virtue of straight-sets victories. France's Tatiana Golovin, the No 13 seed, lost to her compatriot, Aravane Rezai, while the home crowd enjoyed Casey Dellacqua's victory over the No 15 seed, Switzerland's Patty Schnyder.
Dellacqua, who had lost in the first round in her five previous appearances here, is enjoying her belated moment of fame. The world No 78 used to look for "three for 30 dollars" deals in her local shop when buying outfits for her home tournament but after her first win on Monday jumped at an offer by one of the major manufacturers to fill a bag with free kit.
"I got six pairs of shoes, a whole range of clothes, new socks, sweatbands, things you don't even think about," a wide-eyed Dellacqua said. "I got more stuff yesterday than I had in my original suitcase. I called dad and said: 'I'm going to have to get you to take a fair amount of this stuff back to Perth. I can't carry all this stuff.' It was like a second Christmas."
Tommy Robredo, beaten by Mardy Fish, and Stanislas Wawrinka, who retired hurt against Marc Gicquel, were the only losers out of 13 men's seeds in action. Rafael Nadal dropped only four games in beating Florent Serra, whose fellow Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, recorded one of the day's most impressive performances in beating Spain's Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 6-1, 6-3.
GB plan to find clay feet
Argentina will start as clear favourites when Britain play their first Davis Cup World Group tie for five years in Buenos Aires next month, but the visiting captain will leave nothing to chance.
John Lloyd, in announcing his team – Andy and Jamie Murray, Jamie Baker and Alex Bogdanovic, with James Auckland or Ross Hutchins as travelling reserve – yesterday, revealed details of a British training camp in Vina del Mar before the tie. Jamie Murray, Baker and Bogdanovic are all likely to play in a clay-court tournament at the Chilean seaside resort before taking on the Argentines on their favourite surface.
Lloyd is hoping that Andy Murray will also join the training camp.
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