Djokovic, Sharapova stay hot as Melbourne cools

Fri Jan 18, 2013 7:26am EST
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By Nick Mulvenney

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - 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 number one, however, and before launching a broadside at disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, he complimented the 34-year-old Czech on his contribution to the match.

"He loves the big stage," the Serbian said. "You saw how much fun he had. I also had a lot of fun playing. It was a very entertaining match. He's very skilful, comes to the net, never gives you the same ball twice."

Sharapova's flurry of fist pumps after she wound up her match against Williams 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.   Continued...

Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a return to Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic during their men's singles match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 18, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne