Often lost in the glitz and glamour of Maria Sharapova is her competitive fire on the tennis court.
That has taken her to five major titles, and made her one of a handful of tennis players to win each Grand Slam event title at least once. She will turn 28 next month, and if anything, the fire seems to burn stronger now.
Monday night, on the center court of Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open, that fire served her well against a resurgent Victoria Azarenka, the former No. 1 player from Belarus, who spent much of last season inactive and recovering from a foot injury.
Sharapova won, and the 6-4, 6-3 score may have seemed somewhat pedestrian. It wasn't.
Azarenka was seeded No. 32, which was 30 spots below Sharapova. But for a while, she matched the Russian star — Sharapova lives in Bradenton, Fla. — shot for shot and screech for screech in a hard-fought third-round match.
"I'm very disappointed in the match," Azarenka said. "Overall, my level was pretty high. Just not at the important moments."
Sharapova said she didn't feel it was her highest level of tennis, but recognized that Azarenka was no pushover.
"It's great to see her back, playing at a high level," she said.
Sharapova has won at Indian Wells twice, in 2006 and 2013. She lost in the 2012 final — to Azarenka, who has two majors of her own, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Opens.
Sharapova served for the match at 5-1 and Azarenka refused to budge. She served for it again at 5-3 and Azarenka finally succumbed at 40-30. The match time was an uncharacteristic 1:51 for a 6-4, 6-3 score.
Sharapova's endorsements include a Nike clothing line, a fragrance for Avon and a skincare product named Supergoop.
Defending champion Flavia Pennetta also advanced. She beat 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 6-2.
Jelena Jankovic got a tough match against U.S. player Madison Keys. Jankovic, seeded two spots below Keys at No. 18, won, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. French player Caroline Garcia took out No. 5 Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
Men's singles Nos. 4 and 5 struggled, but got through. No. 4 Andy Murray beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, and U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori served out his match against Fernando Verdasco, winning, 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-4.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 7-5, 6-3.