Easy for Azarenka, Serena; Wozniacki out
Reigning champion Victoria Azarenka and five-time champion Serena Williams wasted little energy in making the Australian Open quarterfinals on Monday as Svetlana Kuznetsova roared back to form with an upset win over Caroline Wozniacki.
Top seed Azarenka took less than an hour to dispose of Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-1 to set up a last eight meeting with the veteran Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam winner who spent two months on crutches last year.
The experienced Russian needed a tense 2hrs 28mins to oust 10th seed and former world No 1 Wozniacki 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
"The top battles are starting now," said Azarenka, looking ahead to her next match. "I'm really excited to be so far in the tournament again."
The Belarusian world No 1 was in red-hot form off the baseline against Russia's unseeded Vesnina, but seven double-faults blotted her performance.
Vesnina, who won the Hobart International warm-up tournament, has never beaten a world No 1 and did not look like improving her record on Monday.
Azarenka immediately broke in her opening service game to pile the early pressure on, and broke again for a 3-0 lead with the Russian having no answers to her opponent's sizzling forehand.
She finally held serve to get a game on the board before the top seed wrapped up the set in 33 minutes.
While Azarenka's groundstrokes were near faultless, her serve was wayward and this gave Vesnina a glimmer of hope, but she failed to capitalise.
There was no stopping Azarenka, who needs to defend her title to have any chance of remaining world No 1, with Williams and Maria Sharapova breathing down her neck, as she raced to victory.
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Kuznetsova has dropped down the rankings to be 75 in the world, but she showed her quality against Wozniacki, who has been struggling for form.
It was a courageous win by the Russian after an injury to her right knee forced her to skip a big chunk of 2012.
The injury meant she missed all post-Wimbledon events including the US Open, which ended her streak of 40 straight Grand Slam appearances dating back to 2002 at Flushing Meadow.
But Kuznetsova, who won the 2004 US Open and 2009 French Open, said she was feeling fresh again and delighted to be in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal for two years.
"I think the tournament in Sydney helped me a lot because I had a few matches," the 27-year-old said of the lead-up event to the opening Grand Slam of the season.
"I have been working hard, but still I didn't have much time to do what I like to do with my fitness, condition and everything else."
"So, it's amazing," she added, of making the last eight.
The defeat was another disappointment for Wozniacki, whose preparations for Melbourne were hurt by going out early at both the Brisbane and Sydney International tournaments.
"Obviously I would have loved to have won today, but it didn't happen," said the Dane, whose golf-star boyfriend Rory McIlroy also had a poor start to his season, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
"There is still a long year in front of me. There are still a few things I can work on and, you know, it can be better."
TEEN SENSATION STEPHENS THROUGH
American teen tennis sensation Sloane Stephens battled into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal beating Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski in three tough sets at the Australian Open.
The powerful Stephens, 19, was made to work hard by Jovanovski before prevailing 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to set up a last-eight clash against Williams.
Stephens, whose poise and power has seen her compared to a young Williams, is one of the brightest young talents in the women's game and she displayed all her attributes on Hisense Arena.
"I don't know what happened after the first set but she played great tennis," said Stephens, adding that she hoped to play Williams next.
"I haven't beaten Serena and I hope I'll give you all a good show."
Stephens steamrolled through the first set before the 56th-ranked Jovanovski, 21, woke up and gave her a fright.
The American grabbed the decisive first break on the Serb's opening service game and didn't look back in a set that lasted just 25 minutes.
Jovanovski, another of the tour's big grunters, put up more of a fight as the second set got underway. Both players held serve for 2-2 before Stephens hit a backhand long to give the Serb her first glimmer of hope with a break.
But she threw it away immediately, netting a forehand at break point down before breaking straight back to go 4-3 in front as the intensity of the match rose.
Stephens was rattled and making mistakes as Jovanovski capitalised, winning her serve and then breaking again to take it into a deciding set.
Both players were struggling with their serve, Jovanovski double-faulting six times, and the set saw five breaks as it turned into a baseline slugfest that Stephens finally won when the Serb fired a forehand into the net.
SERENA STORMS AHEAD
In the last women's singles match of the day, Williams stormed through 6-2, 6-0 over Russian 14th seed Maria Kirilenko, making her 35th Grand Slam quarterfinal as she seeks to add to her 15 major titles.
"I played really well. I didn't expect to play so well. I was like 'wow'," she said. "I saw that I had 95 percent first serves in the first set and thought, 'Who is this girl?', because I don't usually do that."
The players had met five times before and Williams had won all the encounters, which didn't bode well for the Russian.
Kirilenko had three break points in Williams' opening service game but she blew her chance for an early advantage and she was pushed hard in the next, but held to keep the tie at level-pegging.
In windy conditions on Rod Laver Arena, the third seed pounced for the break in the fourth game, pressuring Kirilenko with deep shots to the baseline that saw the Russian put a backhand wide to lose control of the set.
Williams was routinely serving at almost 200 kilometres per hour, giving Kirilenko little chance, while proving hugely effective at the net.
She broke again to go 5-2 ahead and completed the first set rout in 29 minutes.
In a lopsided contest, Williams kept the pressure on and broke for a 2-0 lead in the second and went 4-0 in front with a powerful backhand down the line. She broke once more and is now on a 20 match win streak.
Williams, who has an eye on the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988, last won the Australian Open in 2010.