Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens ground out a straight sets win over her junior doubles partner Timea Babos to reach the Australian Open third round on Wednesday.

The fifth seed advanced 6-3, 6-1 but was made to work hard over 95 minutes, despite the deceptively one-sided scoreline while local hope Ash Barty progressed, beating Wang Yafan 6-2, 6-3.

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki also powered into the third round Wednesday with a confidence-boosting win over Sweden’s Johanna Larsson and will face Maria Sharapova.

The third seeded Dane snuffed out a late rally from the world number 77 to win 6-1, 6-3 and continue her bid to become the first woman to defend the Australian title since 2013.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova’s scintillating return to form continued as she powered into the third round to set up a mouth-watering clash with Wozniacki.

Sharapova, who is seeded 30th at the tournament and seeking to recapture former glories after coming back from a drugs ban in 2017, brushed aside Swede Rebecca Peterson 6-2, 6-1.

The 31-year-old has only conceded three games en route to round three at Melbourne Park, where she won the title in 2008 and has reached the final a further three times.

“I’m really happy the way I performed today and obviously it’s always great to be back on this court,” she said.

“Overall, I thought I played a really solid match.”

The pair emerged on Rod Laver Arena late in the night due to a long-running men’s match, meaning only a smattering of fans were there to cheer on the former world number one.

While Sharapova served a 6-0, 6-0 “double bagel” to her first-round opponent Harriet Dart, Peterson initially promised more of a fight as she rallied against the Russian from the baseline.

Her aggressive approach was not enough to prevent the veteran going up a break in the third game, while offering the Swede nothing on her own serve.

The gulf in experience began to tell as the match stretched into early Thursday, with Sharapova breaking Peterson again to take an iron grip on the first set, which she wrapped up after 34 minutes.

Sharapova’s blistering returns proved too much for world number 64 Peterson and the Russian soon ran away with the second set.

Sharapova and third seed Wozniacki have met 10 times, with the record 6-4 in the Russian’s favour.

But their most recent clash was in 2015, when Sharapova was still at her peak and the Dane was yet to win her coveted maiden Slam, which she has credited with boosting her confidence.

There is no love lost between the pair.

Wozniacki questioned the way the WTA handled Sharapova’s return from her drugs ban in 2017 and was furious when she was bumped from the show court in favour of the Russian at that year’s US Open.

It prompted a withering response from Sharapova after Wozniacki’s elimination: “I’m in the fourth round. I don’t know where she is.”

Their meeting promises to be the standout match in the first week of the women’s draw.

“It’s a tough third round but I’ve set up the challenge and I’m willing to take it,” Sharapova said.

However, ninth seed Kiki Bertens crashed out after squandering a one set lead in her second-round match against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The Dutchwoman appeared to be cruising after taking the first set but was unable to handle a spirited fightback from world number 44 Pavlyuchenkova, going down 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Stephens, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2013, said:“I knew I had to be patient, her serve is ridiculously good, so I knew I just had to hang in there and be patient. I thought I did that well today.”

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also cruised into the third round with her vanquished opponent Irina-Camelia Begu tipping the Czech eighth seed for the title.

Kvitova never looked troubled as she downed Begu 6-1, 6-3 in 69 minutes.

“If you’re gonna play like that you’re gonna win it,” the Romanian said as she congratulated Kvitova at the net.

The 28-year-old has been in strong form leading into the season-opening Grand Slam, winning last week’s Sydney International.

Kvitova, whose best result at Melbourne Park was a run to the semi-finals in 2012, will meet Belinda Bencic of Switzerland next.

Stephens faces 31st seed Petra Martic in the third round and a potential quarter-final clash with second seed Angelique Kerber if she makes it that far..

The American and Hungary’s Babos won three junior doubles Grand Slams together in 2010 and their familiarity with one another was apparent as they exchanged breaks early in the first set.

The American kept creating opportunities and was rewarded with another break to go up 5-3. She struggled to convert her chances, requiring six break points in the next game before finally claiming the set.

Overall, she had 23 break points in the match and made only five of them count, underlining a worrying lack of killer instinct that she will need for a deep run the tournament.

There was more venom in Stephens’ second set performance and she never looked back after snatching a break in the first game. She also benefited from a poor performance from Babos, who committed 44 unforced errors and five double faults.

For Bertens, it was a disappointing result, who had a breakthrough year with three titles in 2018 and reached the semi-finals of the Sydney International warm-up tournament. However, the 27-year-old has a poor history at Melbourne Park, only advancing past the second round once in eight appearances.

In contrast, Pavlyuchenkova made a run to the quarter-finals in 2017, where she lost to Venus Williams.

She was thrilled to take the scalp of the world number nine. “I was maybe a little more lucky in the end, but she’s a tough opponent, she’s top 10, that’s a super great win for me,” she said.

Pavlyuchenkova said she worked hard after going down a set. “There’s no magic, you just have to work every point,” she said.

The Russian will play Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the third round after the Belarusian dumped 20th seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia from the tournament.


Sloane Stephens (USA x5) bt Timea Babos (HUN) 6-3, 6-1

Petra Martic (CRO x31) bt Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 6-4, 7-5

Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST x20) 6-3, 6-3

Caroline Garcia (FRA x19) bt Zoe Hives (AUS) 6-3, 6-3

Ashleigh Barty (AUS x15) bt Wang Yafan (CHN) 6-2, 6-3

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) bt Kiki Bertens (NED x9) 3-6, 6-3, 6-3

Amanda Anisimova (USA) bt Lesya Tsurenko (UKR x24) 6-0, 6-2

Maria Sakkari (GRE) bt Astra Sharma (AUS) 6-1, 6-4

Danielle Collins (USA) bt Sachia Vickery (USA) 6-3, 7-5

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x3) bt Johanna Larsson (SWE) 6-1, 6-3

Kimberly Birrell (AUS) bt Donna Vekic (CRO x29) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1

Petra Kvitova (CZE x8) bt Irina Begu (ROU) 6-1, 6-3

Belinda Bencic (SUI) bt Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 7-5, 4-6, 6-2

Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x11) bt Katie Boulter (GBR) 6-3, 6-4

Angelique Kerber (GER x2) bt Beatriz Haddad Maia (BRA) 6-2, 6-3

Maria Sharapova (RUS x30) bt Rebecca Peterson (SWE) 6-2, 6-1

With inputs from AFP