Williams even surprised herself with her strong play against Kirilenko.
“I didn’t expect to come out and play so well tonight,” Williams said. “I was like: ‘Wow.’ I saw I had 95 percent first serves in the first set. I said: ‘Who is this girl?’ It’s not me usually.”
Williams has lost only one match since her first-round exit at the French Open last year. Since then, she has won the Wimbledon, Olympic, US Open, season-ending championship and Brisbane International titles.
The 31-year-old Williams can become the oldest woman to hold the world No. 1 ranking by winning her sixth Australian Open title. She next plays 19-year-old Sloane Stephens of the US, who reached the quarter-finals of a major for the first time with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win over Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.
Azarenka is finding form.
“With every match you start building up for the top battles starting now,” said Azarenka, who only needed 57 minutes to beat Vesnina.
She started last season with a 26-match winning streak, including a lopsided victory over Sharapova in the Australian Open final, but she needs to successfully defend her Australian title to hold the top spot she has held for all but a few weeks since then.
Next up for Azarenka is a quarter-final against two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, who entered the season’s first major ranked No. 75, but advanced to the quarter-finals with a win over former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
After five breaks of serve in the third set, Stephens broke Jovanovski and then held to advance — knowing her parents and grandparents were watching on TV.
“I’m sure my mother’s had like four heart attacks,” Stephens joked after the see-sawing match. “I hope my grandpa didn’t have to put my grandma to bed, because she gets a little worried.”
In the second round of the mixed doubles, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and her partner, Rohan Bopanna of India, comfortably defeated Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Italy’s Fabio Fognini 6-1, 7-5.
Additional reporting by staff writer