Barty takes down Sharapova in US Open tune-up
Top seed Ashleigh Barty has beaten Maria Sharapova in straight sets to advance to the third round of the Cincinnati Open.
The world No. 2, who had suffered a slump in form since her early exit from Wimbledon last month, comfortably beat the former Cincinnati champion 6-4 6-1 in one hour and 27 minutes in the second round on Wednesday.
In an initially evenly matched contest, the pair exchanged point for point to be 4-4 before Barty broke away and closed outthe first set 6-4. The French Open champion then raced to a 3-0 lead in the second before Sharapova pulled one back.
But Barty immediately took the next point to be up 4-1 after the Russian overhit her return of the Australian's second serve.
The world No. 2 then won a crucial breakpoint with her well-timed drop shot bringing Sharapova up to the net, before she exquisitely lobbed the ball back inside the flat-footed Russian's baseline to make it 5-1.
The 23-year-old wasted no time getting into position to serve for the win, again sealing the set with her second serve.
Barty, who had a bye in the first round, avoided a consecutive opening defeat at a WTA event after she was beaten 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-4 by American Sofia Kenin at last week's Canadian Open.
In fact, the win is the Australian's 40th of the season, with her win-loss record 40-7, leaving her second only to Dutch ace Kiki Bertens (41-16).
It was also Barty's second victory over Sharapova this year after her fourth-round win in the Australian Open in January.
Barty will face either Pole Iga Swiatek or Estonian Anett Kontaveit in the following round.
Fellow Australian Alex de Minaur also glided into the third round with a 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 win over home hope Reilly Opelka.
The world No. 38 beat the American wildcard in just one hour and 34 minutes make the third round of an ATP Masters tournament for the second time.
De Minaur will next face Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka, who stunned compatriot and close friend Kei Nishikori 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 in baseline dual that lasted one hour and 40 minutes.
Nishikori became the seventh seeded man to lose or withdraw during the first two rounds.
"It was a tough match for me," the Japanese star said afterwards. "I think he played good tennis. Served well … good to see he's getting stronger, growing up."
Nishioka's win comes just after his 7-5 5-7 6-4 win over Australian Jordan Thompson in the second round, meaning the in-form world No. 77 may prove a tough opponent for de Minaur.
Meanwhile, Thanasi Kokkinakis will play at the US Open after being granted a wildcard by Tennis Australia.
The 23-year-old Australian was the junior runner-up at Flushing Meadows in 2013. His professional career has been sidetrackedby a series of injuries and he is currently ranked 212th.
The US Tennis Association and Tennis Australia have a reciprocal agreement whereby each federation gets to award wildcard entries to the other's Grand Slam tournament.
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