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.
The upset pits him against Andy Murray for a place in the final, with the experienced British sixth seed a step too far for brash Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios, who lost 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.
Nadal had no excuses, admitting he played “a very bad” match.
“I am not very happy because I didn’t compete the way I wanted to compete in the first two sets and that’s something that I don’t like,” he said.
“The season is long, beginnings are tough. I need to be ready to accept all the situations that happen and try to be strong.”
Murray, a three-time runner up at Melbourne Park, was too composed for Kyrgios but said he was taking nothing for granted against Berdych.
“Maybe I won’t play well in a couple of days; maybe I play great. I don’t know,” he said. “But I’ve given myself a good opportunity again, and hopefully I can use it to my advantage.”
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.
“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.”
Sharapova, who also dumped Bouchard out of theFrench 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.
– Stressed out –
She now faces Makarova, who raced through her match against third seed Simona Halep, thrashing the more-fancied Romanian 6-4, 6-0.
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.
Makarova, her right thigh heavily strapped, said she was trying to stay grounded and not let the pressure 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. “I don’t know why.” – Agence France-Presse