Novak Djokovic reached the Australian Open fourth round without dropping serve on Friday and Maria Sharapova was also a class apart as she floored seven-time major-winner Venus Williams.
As tennis stars digested cyclist Lance Armstrong’s doping confession, Djokovic won an entertaining clash with Czech crowd-pleaser Radek Stepanek to move towards the tournament’s first title hat-trick since the 1960s. Sharapova turned day five’s showpiece match into a rout with her remorseless 6-1, 6-3 victory over Williams, in which she briefly threatened her third 6-0, 6-0 ‘double bagel’ of the tournament.
Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska also reached round four without dropping a set, and there were wins for China’s Li Na and former world number one Ana Ivanovic.
As Thursday’s 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) heat subsided, world number one Djokovic played some exhibition-style points with Stepanek but still kept enough focus to win 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
In reaching the fourth round, the Serb has won all 43 of his service games and faced just five break points, remaining the favourite as he bids to become the first man in the Open era to win the title three times in a row.
Stepanek skipped around the court, headed the ball, and used his racquet as a machine-gun as he played to the crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
Sharapova on song
Sharapova had opened her tournament with two ‘double bagel’ wins, and she threatened to embarrass Williams with her third before finally conceding her first game of the year for 4-1 in the first.
But there was no revival for Williams, who is returning from long-term illness, and Sharapova was able to match Steffi Graf’s 1989 tournament record of reaching the fourth round for the loss of only four games.
“Well, I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she’s capable of producing and playing,” said the Russian world number two.
Elsewhere, Poland’s Radwanska schooled Britain’s Heather Watson 6-3, 6-1 to make it 12 wins in a row this year, and German fifth seed Angelique Kerber beat Madison Keys of the United States.
Germany’s Julia Goerges ousted Zheng Jie but fellow Chinese Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion, beat Sorana Cirstea to reach the fourth round for the fourth year in a row. In the men’,. Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Janko Tipsarevic and Nicolas Almagro all went through.