Melbourne: A welcome wind blew away the stifling heat at Melbourne Park on Friday but there was no diverting Novak Djokovic or Maria Sharapova from their paths to the last 16 of the Australian Open on day five of the tournament.
Djokovic remained on course for his third straight title as he marched into the fourth round without giving up a set after successfully negotiating a tricky tie against Radek Stepanek with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win.
Sharapova was even more impressive and, although denied a third successive 6-0, 6-0 win of the week, looked every inch the title contender in her 6-1, 6-3 demolition of seven-times Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.
Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska also continued her red-hot start to the year, notching up win number 12 with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Britain's Heather Watson in their third round tie.
Playing with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena because of a few drops of rain that accompanied the cooler weather, Djokovic had to work for every point against Stepanek, who charged the net 67 times.
It was little more than a good workout for the world No.1, however, and before launching a broadside at disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, he complimented the 34-year-old Czech on his contribution to the match.
Sharapova’s flurry of fist pumps after she wound up her match against Venus showed how much the victory meant to the second seed, who has been in ruthless form this week despite missing her one warm-up tournament with a collar-bone injury.
“I think the reason I started so well in this tournament is because I knew that I had to,” said the Russian 2008 champion.
“I knew I was coming in without any match play. It's tough. I hadn't played a professional match, a real match, in over two months.”
The absence of the injured world No. 4 Rafa Nadal has left a gaping hole in the top half of the draw and fourth seed David Ferrer eased further into it with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win over another entertainer, 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis.
The Spanish baseliner showed more than a few decent touches of his own — most notably a sumptuous backhand lob — as he set up a fourth-round contest against Japan's Kei Nishikori.
Big-serving Tomas Berdych was a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 winner over Jurgen Melzer and will face Kevin Anderson in the next round with a likely quarter final meeting with Djokovic on the line.
“Kevin Anderson has a huge serve so it could be like playing against myself,” the Czech fifth seed said of the South African, who upset 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
On the Indian front, Sania Mirza and Bob Bryan began their partnership with a convincing straight-set victory over Australian pair of Samantha Stosur and Luke Saville in the mixed doubles first round.
The third seeded Indo-American pair coasted to a 6-2, 6-2 win over the unseeded local team in just 50 minutes.
Sania and left-handed Bob, one of the most successful doubles player the game has seen along with his brother Mike, converted all three break points and saved two chances on their own in the opening set to surge ahead. (Reuters)
DAY V RESULTS
Novak Djokovic (1, Srb) bt Radek Stepanek (31, Cze) 6-4, 6-3, 7-5; David Ferrer (4, Esp) bt Marcos Baghdatis (28, Cyp) 6-4, 6-2, 6-3; Tomas Berdych (5, Cze) bt Jurgen Melzer (26, Aut) 6-3, 6-2, 6-2; Janko Tipsarevic (8, Srb) bt Julien Benneteau (32, Fra) 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3; Nicolas Almagro (10, Esp) bt Jerzy Janowicz (24, Pol) 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1; Stanislas Wawrinka (15, Sui) bt Sam Querrey (20, US) 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4; Kei Nishikori (16, Jpn) bt Evgeny Donskoy (Rus) 7-6 (3), 6-2, 6-3; Kevin Anderson (SA) bt Fernando Verdasco (22, Esp) 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2
Maria Sharapova (2, Rus) bt Venus Williams (25, US) 6-1, 6-3; Agnieszka Radwanska (4, Pol) bt Heather Watson (GBR) 6-3, 6-1; Angelique Kerber (5, Ger) bt Madison Keys (US) 6-2, 7-5; Li Na (6, Chn) bt Sorana Cirstea (27, Rom) 6-4, 6-1; Ekaterina Makarova (19, Rus) bt Marion Bartoli (11, Fra) 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4; Ana Ivanovic (13, Srb) bt Jelena Jankovic (22, Srb) 7-5, 6-3; Julia Goerges (18, Ger) bt Zheng Jie (Chn) 6-3, 1-6, 7-5
Sania Mirza/ Bob Bryan (3, Ind/ US) bt Samantha Stosur/ Luke Saville (Aus) 6-2, 6-2
Note: Seeded players and Indians only