Williams and Sharapova set up Australian Open quarter-final showdown

Williams and Sharapova set up Australian Open quarter-final showdown

Sharapova serve fires up in time for Serena showdown

MELBOURNE, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA (JANUARY 24, 2016) (TENNIS AUSTRALIA) – Another day of reckoning looms for Maria Sharapova when she takes on long-time nemesis Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals but the Russian can at least head into the match with her serve running hot.

Runner-up to Williams last year, Sharapova booked a re-match against the American with a hard-fought 7-5 7-5 win over Swiss young gun Belinda Bencic in the early match on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday (January 24)

Hampered by a number of surgeries on her right shoulder since 2009, Sharapova’s serve has rarely proved the difference in tight matches but her 21 aces were vital in fending off 12th seed Bencic, touted as a future grand slam winner.

The richly talented 18-year-old had a number of chances to break Sharapova in the second set but the five-times grand slam champion’s serve repeatedly sprung her from jail.

The 28-year-old now leads the tournament with 52 aces, some distance from Serena’s 25, though the American has had to swing her serving arm far less in reaching the quarter-finals.

World number one Williams wasted little time in swatting aside Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan 6-2 6-1.

Williams was broken in the first game of the fourth round match, only the second time she had dropped serve in the tournament, before she rattled off the next four games and went on to seal the set in 30 minutes.

The 34-year-old defending champion barely got into second gear against Gasparyan and breezed through the second set to seal the match in less than hour.

Williams has now had three relatively straightforward matches after being pushed by Camila Giorgi in the first round, and should be well rested when she faces Sharapova, who she beat in last year’s final, part of a 17-match winning streak against the Russian dating back to 2004.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori reached the quarter-finals for the third time when he eased past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 6-2 6-4.

The seventh seed hit 31 winners and sealed his place in the last eight when Tsonga, seeded ninth, made his 36th unforced error by slashing a forehand wide to end the 122-minute contest on Rod Laver Arena.

Nishikori, who was beaten on both his previous visits to the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, will next face reigning champion Novak Djokovic or Gilles Simon.