By Fernie Ruano Jr.

One question has been constantly lobbed towards No.4 seed, five-time Key Biscayne finalist Maria Sharapova since arriving at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park: Will this be the year the Russian star gets her hands on the 2014 Sony Open Tennis crystal cup? By the time Sharapova blew kisses to the Stadium Court crowd early Monday afternoon, the WTA No. 7 ranked player was three wins shy of a sixth finals appearance after defeating No. 19 seed Kirsten Flipkens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a grueling, 2-hour match that kicked off the Day Session in Key Biscayne.

With the win, Sharapova advanced into a quarterfinals tilt vs. the No. 8 Petra Kvitova – No.12 Ana Ivanovic winner, to be played later today. Sharapova becomes the first of this year’s Top 4 seeds to advance into the quarterfinals and improved to 5-0 lifetime against Flipkens, including her second hard court victory of the year over the Belgian.

Coming into the match having won four of five sets in the tournament, Sharapova battled the heat and humidity, as well as her opponent. She ate a banana in between games in an effort to keep her energy from waning. The four-time Grand Slam winner started the match in sloppy fashion falling behind 0-4 and with a total of 10 unforced errors in the opening set. “You know, I think I made like four return errors in one game, so that gives her so much confidence,” Sharapova said, of her early troubles.

Flipkens had her on the move throughout the set and took only 32 minutes to win it 6-3. But Sharapova rallied in the second by breaking Flipkens 3 times; including in the 10th game, when up 5-4 she won four straight points and evened the match. Tied at one set apiece, Sharapova held serve to start the third set before breaking Flipkens to go up two games, and following it up with winners on 4 of 5 points to take a commanding 3-0 lead. The Russian broke Flipkens again in the sixth game to go up 5-1, and then served out the match.

After losing several three-set matches earlier in the year, Sharapova said it was a positive step to win against Flipkens. “You know, I haven’t been very consistent in the beginning of this year. I have had some tough three‑set matches that I have lost. You try to turn that around. I feel like every little step, whether it’s from inside or outside, you’ve got to put yourself out there and put yourself in positions to keep going,” she added. “That’s why everyone is here.”

In other early action on Monday, 12th seeded Canadian Milos Raonic was dominant as he defeated Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-2, while woman’s No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany outlasted Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.