Third seed Serena Williams eased into the Australian Open fourth round yesterday, but defending champion Victoria Azarenka was made to work hard and play “ugly” to stay in the tournament.
Williams powered past Japan’s Ayumi Morita 6-1, 6-3 after a minor second-set wobble, but it was much tougher for the top seed against American Jamie Hampton.
The Belarusian came through the match on Rod Laver Arena 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to set up a clash with unseeded Russian Elena Vesnina, who upset 16th-seeded Italian Roberta Vinci.
However, it was much harder than the scoreline suggested against a player who was wincing in pain from a back problem that needed treatment in the second set.
“I don’t think it was the best performance, honestly, today; but in another way I can say I can play better, so that’s a positive note from there,” Azarenka said.
“You know, these kind of matches sometimes bring better things for you in the future, because winning ugly always means that you overcame something, that you weren’t feeling great, you weren’t feeling all your shots,” she said. “So I take it as a positive at the end of the day.”
Hampton gave it her all in a match packed with quality rallies and tight games.
Neither player was serving well and Hampton left the court for treatment on a lower back problem, but despite being in obvious pain she returned to take the second set.
The American, who appeared close to tears at times from the discomfort, had the crowd onside, but Azarenka fought back to win.
It was much easier for Williams, who followed Azarenka onto center court.
There was no stopping her in the first set, with Williams firing down the fastest women’s serve of the tournament so far at 207kph.
However, Morita raced to 3-0 lead in the second serve before Williams reeled off six games in a row to clinch the match.
Williams now faces 14th-seeded Russian Maria Kirilenko, who beat Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
In other matches, Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia beat Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in three sets and will next play Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in two sets.
American Sloane Stephens, 19, won the battle of the teens when she sent Britain’s Laura Robson, 18, packing 7-5, 6-3, while at the other end of the age scale Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42, also lost.
The Japanese veteran was beaten 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) by Serb Bojana Jovanovski, 21, who was not even born when Date-Krumm made her Grand Slam debut in 1989.
In the men’s tournament Roger Federer was in no mood to let a trend develop after the first real upset of the week in Melbourne, slapping down local upstart Bernard Tomic to reach the fourth round.
Juan Martin del Potro stunned Federer to win the US Open in 2009, but the Argentine sixth seed was on the receiving end of the shock yesterday by inspired Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
Tomic gave his best and came within two points of winning a thrilling second-set tiebreak, but Federer simply upped gears, pulled out a couple of extraordinary winners, and raced away to a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 victory.
Del Potro battled back from two sets down to level his contest, but the mercurial Chardy grabbed a break in the decider and held his nerve to serve out for a 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(3/7), 3-6, 6-3 win.
Italian Andreas Seppi secured his place as the Frenchman’s next opponent by wrapping up a 6-7(2/7), 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over Croatian 12th seed Marin Cilic.
Andy Murray berated himself for playing “nonsense” tennis at times, but eventually broke down his Lithuanian practice partner Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
Murray will next face France’s Gilles Simon who beat Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 8-6 in a thrilling contest last night.
Ninth seed Richard Gasquet was a set and a break down before he charged back to beat Croatian Ivan Dodig in four sets, while seventh-seeded compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hammered Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia 6-2, 6-1 6-4.
In the first round of the mixed doubles, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and India’s Rohan Bopanna beat Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Jack Sock of the US 6-3, 6-3.
Additional reporting by Staff writer