AUSTRALIA, January 27 – Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open dream lay in tatters Tuesday with the third seed crushed by Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals, but Maria Sharapova showed who’s boss by slapping down Eugenie Bouchard.
The out-of-sorts Spaniard, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, was never in contention against a player he had beaten the last 17 times they met stretching back to 2006.
The Czech seventh seed insisted ahead of the match that the imposing statistic meant little and he came out of the blocks firing, winning 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (7/5) despite a mini Nadal revival in the third set.
“I was definitely ready for it and set up my plan pretty well and I stuck with that through those three sets,” said Berdych, who also made the semis last year, losing to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.
“I started pretty well, but you are playing Rafa and you have to keep going until the last point.”
His upset win means he will face either Andy Murray or Nick Krygios for a place in the final.
In contrast to Nadal’s lacklustre performance, the experienced Sharapova dominated young Canadian pretender Bouchard to set up an all-Russian semi-final with dark horse Ekaterina Makarova.
The world number two, who could claim the top ranking from arch-rival Serena Williams if she wins the title, showed her intent by breaking the seventh seed in the first game of the match and never looked back.
Billed as a Glam Slam showdown between two of the game’s most marketable women, an intense Sharapova was all business in the crushing 6-3, 6-2 win on a cool, overcast Melbourne day.
“She’s been playing so well at Slams, so confident and so aggressive,” said the Russian, gunning for a sixth Grand Slam crown and her first in Australia since 2008.
“I just really tried to take that away from her a little bit. I did a great job of that today.”
She now faces Makarova, who raced through her match against third seed Simona Halep, thrashing the more-fancied Romanian 6-4, 6-0.
The 26-year-old has made the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park twice previously but never before advanced to the semis in seven attempts.
“I love it, it’s a great feeling that I came through,” said Makarova.
In the other women’s quarter-finals, to be played Wednesday, top seed Serena Williams meets last year’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova while her sister Venus takes on teenage American Madison Keys.
If the Williams sisters both win, they will face each other across the net at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2009 Wimbledon final, which Serena won.
British sixth seed Murray will have the home crowd against him when he takes on mercurial 19-year-old local Nick Kyrgios in the final last eight clash on Tuesday evening for the right to meet Berdych.
– Stressed out –
Sharapova, who also dumped Bouchard out of the French Open semi-finals last year, gave no quarter on Rod Laver Arena, hitting 18 winners and forcing 30 unforced errors from the 20-year-old.
“The first two or three balls are so aggressive from her side,” Sharapova said. “I just tried to keep my ground, I knew she was going to go at it and be aggressive.”
Makarova, her right thigh heavily strapped, said she was trying to stay grounded and not let expectations get to her with Sharapova looming.
“I need to believe in myself. I’m trying not to really think that it’s semis, that I’m one step from the final, but that it’s just a normal match like always,” she said.
“Just go out there and enjoy my game.”
Halep came into the match as favourite but her trademark fighting qualities deserted her, with the talented 23-year-old saying she felt stressed by the occasion.
“I practised very well in the morning, but I was a little bit too stressed before I started the match,” she said. “It was not really pressure, just a little bit stressed. I don’t know why,” she said.