MELBOURNE, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Practice makes perfect, in theory, but not for Maria Sharapova.
The second-seeded Russian walloped Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 6-1 6-0 on Sunday to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in record time.
Sharapova, the champion in Melbourne in 2008, has dropped just five games in her opening four matches, an Australian Open best.
Only France’s Mary Pierce, who dropped just four games on her way to the French Open quarter-finals in 1994, has been more ruthless.
Sharapova has spent just 249 minutes on court in four matches but said she did not feel any need to step up her practice as a result.
”The work that you put in before the tournament is the most important,“ Sharapova told reporters. ”What you do in the off-season, you’re not going to put this work in during the tournaments.
“I actually love coming to tournaments. You practice less and just go and play matches. It’s like the best-case scenario.”
World number two Sharapova arrived in Melbourne without any match practice after pulling out of two warm-up events because of a sore neck.
Right from the off, the Russian has shown no sign of rustiness but she said there was often no way of telling how well she is going to play.
“The lead-up to the tournament, sometimes if you’re playing really good in practice I get a little bit worried,” she said.
”But I never do. I‘m horrible in practice most of the time.
”(When that happens), I‘m like, ‘that’s a great sign’, because I come to the matches and my expectations are quite low.
”But it depends. Every grand slam that I’ve won or done well at, I’ve always felt different actually. Sometimes I feel like I‘m not playing my best tennis in the beginning, but I start playing better.
“And then a couple that I’ve won, I felt like I was playing great from the beginning and I was able to carry that through the whole tournament.”
In the quarter-finals, Sharapova will play another Russian, Ekaterina Makarova, for the second successive year and said she was aware that maintaining her barn-storming run was not going to be simple.
“It’s always much easier said than done to keep that focus, especially when you have a (good) first set,” she said.
”Maybe in the end of the second your opponent can start going for it a little bit more.
”All of a sudden, especially in women’s tennis, things can change really quickly. It’s really about sticking to your game-plan, being consistent, but playing your game.
”My next match is against Makarova. I have to do the right things to beat her.
“If I win that, it’s moving on to the next one. That’s how I go about a tournament, a grand slam. Obviously I want to be playing my best tennis towards the end of the second week.” (Editing by Patrick Johnston)