Tennis' reigning superstar Maria Sharapova flicked aside heir apparent Eugenie Bouchard in the Australian Open quarter-finals Tuesday, hitting peak form as the tournament reaches its business end.The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion, seeded second, crushed the Canadian seventh seed 6-3, 6-2 to see off the challenge from a new generation and sound a warning to rivals at Melbourne Park.
Eugenie Bouchard (L), playing her childhood idol Maria Sharapova (R), looked nervous.
The win sets up an all-Russian final four clash on Thursday with Ekaterina Makarova, the 10th seed. Makarova raced into the semi-finals after easily overcoming Romanian third seed Simona Halep 6-4, 6-0. Halep admitted she was stressed and froze on the big stage.
Sharapova, 27, won the Australian title in 2008 and can seize the world number one ranking off arch-rival Serena Williams if she repeats the feat this year.
She was never troubled against Bouchard, 20, the photogenic rising star who has constantly been compared to Sharapova and touted as the leading light of a group of young guns destined for Grand Slam success
"I felt pretty good from the start. I thought I had a really good start. I kept my focus throughout the whole match," the Sharapova said. "I didn't feel that I had too many let downs, which is important. When I did have a few slips I was able to come out with great first serves or really powerful returns. Overall really happy with the way the match went."
Bouchard conceded an early break in her quest for big winner and never recovered, admitting, "I didn't start well and it kind of all went downhill from there."
Bouchard, playing her childhood idol, looked nervous and was in danger of conceding another break when she double faulted in the fifth game before steadying and forcing a mistake from Sharapova.
She went into the match vowing to play her shots and was true to her word, putting the pressure on with two break points in the next, only to overcook her backhand both times and send both chances long.
Sharapova's composure never wavered and she brought up two set points on Bouchard's serve at 5-3, hitting the first in the net but clinching the second when the Canadian's attempt to go down the line went wide.
Bouchard's error rate continued to climb as she went for big winners in the second set and Sharapova seized a decisive break in the fourth game. The seventh seed never recovered, burying her head in her hands at the changeover before her misery ended after one hour 17 minutes.
Sharapova said she was steadily improving after surviving a major scare in the second round, when she was one point away from an early cab to Melbourne airport. "Am I happy that I was able to lift my game after having a couple of matches where I wasn't satisfied? Yeah, absolutely," she said. "But the toughest is what's to come. I hope that I'll be able to take that and play even better."Tricky lefty up ahead
Ekaterina Makarova (R) shakes hands with Simona Halep after winning their quarterfinal. (AP Photo)
Sharapova has a 5-0 record over the left-handed Makarova, whose previous best results in Australia came when she reached the quarter-finals in 2012 and 2013.
"I'm also facing an opponent that wasn't necessarily a favourite coming into that stage. That's always a tricky situation because she's going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that's dangerous. I haven't faced a lefty in this tournament yet. She's been using her lefty serve extremely well from what I've seen."
Makarova has never beaten Sharapova.