Fans caught a fleeting glimpse of Novak Djokovic at Rod Laver Arena yesterday as the Serb hurtled into the fourth round of the Australian Open, while Andy Murray’s mauling of the French continued at Melbourne Park.
Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova were on court for less than an hour as injuries and mismatches again blighted the women’s draw, while Maria Sharapova handled the first true test of her Open credentials in style to sweep into the next round.
World No. 1 Djokovic secured his place in the last 16 by beating Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, whose 11 hours and five minutes marathon match with John Isner at Wimbledon 2010 was the longest in tennis history.
It took the Serb nine hours and 51 minutes less to beat Mahut, who was hindered by heavy strapping on his knee.
“Obviously I feel for my opponent, who evidently could not move on the court,” Djokovic said after his 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 romp. “I think most of the people expected him to just retire ... and walk out of the court, but he managed to stay. So all the credit for him.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga planted the first French flag in the fourth round by steamrolling Portugal’s Frederico Gil 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, but, while Richard Gasquet joined him after an impressive 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win over Janko Tipsarevic, three more of their countrymen fell by the wayside.
Gael Monfils battled back bravely from two sets down before losing in five to Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, Julien Benneteau was upended by Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Michael Llodra fell to French executioner Murray.
The Scot has been runner-up at Melbourne Park for the past two years. but his game is of a different quality this year. With confidence coursing through his veins and stoic coach Ivan Lendl supporting from the stands, Murray’s maiden Gand Slam might not be far off.
World No. 4 Murray, who beat France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second round, now has 25 wins in his past 26 matches against French opposition.
“My movement was way better than the first two matches. I moved great tonight,” Murray said after his 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 win.
“That’s a good sign for me because when I move well, the rest of my game goes well. That was the most pleasing thing for me about tonight,” he said. “I need to keep improving, do things a bit better each round. Tonight I did a lot of things better, so I look forward to the next one.”
Benneteau’s conqueror Nishikori is the first Japanese man to advance to the last 16 of the Australian Open since tennis was declared open in 1968.
In the last singles match of the day, Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt scored an emotional 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 win over Canadian Milos Raonic.
Wild card Hewitt will now meet Djokovic in the fourth round.
Williams, the last American standing after Vania King’s exit yesterday, raced into the last 16 in 59 minutes with a powerhouse display that left Greta Arn stunned after a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing.
“I’m definitely going to keep representing the flag as best I can,” the 13-time grand slam champion said. “I really don’t think when I go out there that I’m the last American. I just think I’m trying to come in here and win this match, play this girl. That’s all I really think about.”
Wimbledon champion Kvitova’s match was only 38 minutes old when Russian Maria Kirilenko retired hurt. The 24-year-old Kirilenko had dropped the first set 6-0 and was broken in the first game of the second before retiring.