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Sharapova can't wait to test herself against the best

 

By Eleanor Crooks

Maria Sharapova is relishing the chance to take on Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Australian Open.

It will be a meeting of the only two former champions in the women's draw, with Sharapova lifting the trophy a decade ago while Kerber was the winner in 2016.

The popular German endured a miserable 2017, slipping from World No.1 to outside the top 20, but has been revitalised this season and is yet to lose.

Sharapova, still unseeded after returning from her 15-month doping ban, sees matches against the leading players as the best way to test her level.

She said: "I came back with no ranking. I'm around 50 in the world at this point, so I know I'm going to be facing seeded players first, second, third round.

"She happens to be the next one that I have to play.

"I look forward to these matches. I want to be playing against opponents that are former Grand Slam champions.

"She's had success playing out here in these conditions on these courts.

"I want to see whether I am on that level."

Sharapova certainly seems to be enjoying returning to Australia for the first time since her failed doping test two years ago.

Her second-round win was a hugely satisfying one, with the Russian overcoming 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who had beaten her at the US Open 6-1 7-6 (7-4).

"I love being in the city," said Sharapova.

"I love Australia. I love the summer time. I was watching this tournament last year with a box of Kleenex next to me, sick.

"I feel like I transported myself into the TV this year and I'm finding myself on Rod Laver Arena competing. There's a lot of things to smile about."

Kerber and Sharapova have played seven times before, with the Russian leading 4-3 but having lost the last two of some fine encounters.

Kerber, who defeated Donna Vekic 6-4 6-1 in an impressively dominant performance, said: "We both played a lot of good matches in the past.

"I know that I have to play my best tennis again. I think it will be a good match.

"She has played very well in the last two games here."

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