Powerhouse Rafael Nadal shot down Tommy Haas to make the second week of the Australian Open yesterday, while rusty triple champion Serena Williams booked a fourth-round clash with Victoria Azarenka.
Fourth seeds Andy Murray and Elena Dementieva joined them in the round of 16, with the Scot crushing Austria’s Jurgen Melzer 7-5, 6-0, 6-3 and the Russian beating local favorite Samantha Stosur 7-6 (8/6), 6-4.
In an epic four-hour thriller, Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez ground down France’s Richard Gasquet 3-6, 3-6, 7-6 (12/10), 6-2, 12-10 for the right to meet Nadal next.
Also making the grade were three Frenchmen — Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils.
Nadal showed why he is world No. 1 by demolishing Germany’s Haas and said he was playing some of his best tennis ever.
“I played one of my best matches in Australia out there,” he said afterwards. “I can sleep with a lot of satisfaction.”
Williams, the tournament favorite, crushed China’s Peng Shuai 6-1, 6-4 to set up an intriguing showdown with Azarenka after the Belarusian ended any hope Amelie Mauresmo had of repeating her 2006 heroics here.
Stung by a listless “D-minus” performance in the second round and sister Venus’ shock exit at the same stage, Williams stamped her authority on the match early and never let go.
“It was definitely a lot better than my second round. But, you know, I’m still trying to work on some things and hoping they’ll come together,” Serena Williams said.
“I’m feeling a little rusty, for whatever reason. I’m hoping my next round I’ll be a little better,” she said.
Peng’s departure leaves Zheng Jie as China’s only player left.
The Wimbledon semi-finalist, the 22nd seed, beat Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2, 6-2 to continue her best-ever Australian Open showing with a fourth round tie pending against former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The woman who ousted Venus Williams, Spain’s unseeded Carla Suarez Navarro, continued her surprise march, beating countrywoman Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-1, 6-4.
Next up for her is another Spaniard, Anabel Medina Garrigues, who sent Italian 12th seed Flavia Pennetta packing 6-4, 6-1.
Suarez Navarro said she wasn’t thinking too far ahead.
“Maybe, maybe not,” she said of her quarter-final chances.
While the focus has been on the big name stars on the men’s side, the French contingent is looking dangerous.
Twelfth-seed Monfils came into the Open overshadowed by higher-profile countrymen Tsonga and Simon, but has been making his mark.
Monfils produced another impressive display to dismiss 17th seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 and will face off for a quarter-final spot with Simon, who beat Croatia’s Mario Ancic in straight sets.
“It will be a hard match against Gael, who is a very, very good player,” Monfils said.
“When he focuses he plays well and when only 16 people are left in the draw, every match is going to be hard,” Monfils added.
Tsonga, a surprise finalist last year, recovered from a third-set lapse to grind down Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1.
But the hard-hitting showdown between Gonzalez and Gasquet was the match of the day, spanning four hours and nine minutes with the Chilean staging a remarkable comeback after going two sets down.
In other action, Spanish 14th seed Fernando Verdasco was an easy 6-4, 6-0, 6-0 winner over Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic and will next face Murray.