Top seeds cruise in Melbourne
The women's top seeds barely shifted out of first gear Friday with Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Li Na leading the drive into the Australian Open fourth round.
Seeded four, five and six respectively, they were joined by Ana Ivanovic who won a battle of former world No 1s by beating fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic.
World No 2 and second seed Maria Sharapova plays a blockbuster evening match on Rod Laver Arena against seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams later on Friday.
Poland's Radwanska is the form player this year, winning her 12th match in a row without dropping a set in her best ever start to a season, something she put down to a new-found confidence.
The world No 4 proved too strong for Britain's Heather Watson in a 6-3, 6-1 thumping as she searches for her first Grand Slam title.
"I think I've never won 12 matches in a row," the Pole said. "It was my first time I played Auckland and Sydney and it was a good start. I can't complain."
She said she changed nothing in her game during the off-season, but is feeling more confident about herself.
"I'm very confident from the beginning and just happy that I can play really my best tennis from the beginning of the year," said the 23-year-old.
Radwanska, who won lead-up tournaments in Auckland and Sydney, next faces 13th seed Ivanovic who eased past Jankovic 7-5, 6-3.
Ivanovic won the French Open title in 2008, but has failed to make any significant impact at a Grand Slam since. But she proved too much for Jankovic, who has also struggled to recapture her best form in recent years.
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Ivanovic said she has worked hard to lose weight and build strength.
"I'm happy to see the results, and I definitely move a lot better and faster. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement, but, you know, some things take time," she said.
China's top player Li is also a former winner at Roland Garros, in 2011, and she breezed past Romania's Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-1.
The sixth seed, a finalist at Melbourne Park in 2011, next plays 18th-seeded German Julia Goerges, who beat Li's compatriot Zheng Jie 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 in their third round clash.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for Li in a seesawing first set, with the Chinese No 1 making a slew of unforced errors and double faults in throwing away two service games.
She revealed a goal of cracking the top three this year.
"This is the goal for whole team. I know it's tough, but if you didn't have a goal maybe you just feel like, 'Oh, No 6 also is pretty good'.
"But I still try to fight on the court to push myself."
Kerber, who was celebrating her 25th birthday, was given a second set workout by young American Madison Keys but was never seriously threatened in a 6-2, 7-5 win on Rod Laver Arena, with the roof closed due to rain.
Kerber has never been beyond the third round at Melbourne Park before and next meets 19th-seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who beat 11th-seeded Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-4.
"It was a very tough match because Madison is a great young player," said Kerber, after being presented with a chocolate birthday cake on court.
"I really have nothing to lose," added the German, who was the first women from her country to finish in the year-end top five since Steffi Graf in 1996.
SHARAPOVA CRUSHES VENUS TO REACH FOURTH ROUND
Second seed Maria Sharapova sent Venus Williams crashing out of the Australian Open Friday in a crushing straight sets defeat in the third round.
The Russian, who was champion at Melbourne Park in 2008, was in rampant form, winning 6-1, 6-3 in 79 minutes on Rod Laver Arena against the vastly experienced American.