(Reuters) - Maria Sharapova has blasted her way to the third round at the Australian Open but she has accepted an underdog status ahead of her clash with defending champion Caroline Wozniacki on Friday.
Sharapova has struggled for form and fitness since her return from a 15-month doping ban in 2017, while Wozniacki arrives as third seed after clinching her maiden Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park last year.
But the 31-year-old Russian has started the new season on a positive note by reaching the quarter-finals at Shenzhen and has dropped just three games in her first two matches this week.
When asked she starts as an underdog against Wozniacki, Sharapova said: "Relatively speaking on paper, if you're looking at numbers, yeah, absolutely.
"She's number three in the world. I mean, I think that speaks for itself in terms of her game, her confidence, everything else.
"She loves playing here, loves everything about this tournament. I certainly have a tough match ahead of me."
Sharapova holds a 6-4 head-to-head advantage over her Danish opponent but their last meeting was in 2015, and Wozniacki has since stepped up to become one of the most consistent players on the Tour.
"I think we all kind of go along our personal journeys. We haven't played each other in a long time. It's tough to tell (if Wozniacki is harder to beat)," Sharapova added.
Men's defending champion Roger Federer will look to continue his steady progress against American Taylor Fritz, who has already matched his best ever run at a Grand Slam by making the third round.
After suffering a straight sets defeat by 17-time major winner Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon last year, Alex de Minaur will have a second crack at the Spaniard in front of his home crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
"I think a lot of these things is just about experience. I've already stepped out on court and played him, so that whole experience of playing Rafa, that's not new to me any more," the 19-year-old Australian number one said.
"So hopefully this time around I can go a bit more relaxed, just focus on myself, try to play some good tennis."
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Keith Weir)