MELBOURNE, Australia — Title favorite Serena Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka advanced in contrasting styles Saturday to the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Williams, aiming for a third consecutive major title, recovered from a break down in the second set to win six straight games and finish off a 6-1, 6-3 win over Japan’s Ayumi Morita in 66 minutes.
The 15-time major winner even surprised herself with another serve at 128 mph (207 kph), matching her career fastest serve she hit earlier in the tournament.
“I tried to hit it really hard. I hit 207 the other day and I thought it was luck,” she said. “But I did it again and I was like, whew! I’m going to try to go for 210. We’ll see.”
Top-ranked Azarenka struggled to hold off injured American Jamie Hampton, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, and didn’t help herself with six double-faults.
Hampton, who needed a medical timeout for a lower-back problem before she served out the second set and winced in pain, was frequently on the verge of tears throughout the third but still managed to hit 41 winners to keep the Belarusian under pressure.
Azarenka appeared frustrated at times but overcame an early break and fended off triple break point in the seventh game of the deciding set before clinching the match in 2 hours, 9 minutes.
“She played incredible, went for every single shot. I felt it was touching every single line,” Azarenka said. “She took a medical timeout but she rips winners all over the place and I was like, ‘Can I have a back problem?’ I’m feeling great, but I’m missing every shot.”
On Friday night, Maria Sharapova celebrated with extra exuberance after her 6-1, 6-3 win over Venus Williams, her first victory over the seven-time major winner in a Grand Slam.
“I was just really pumped,” she said. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
After back-to-back 6-0, 6-0 wins in the first two rounds – the first time that happened at major since 1985 – Sharapova has conceded the fewest number of games en route to the fourth round at the Australian Open since Steffi Graf did so 24 years ago.
Graf also lost only four games in her first three matches on her way to the second of her three consecutive titles in Melbourne.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic took another step closer to a third consecutive Australian title, defeating Radek Stepanek, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5, in the third round.
His victory came on the same day Lance Armstrong admitted during a television interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used banned drugs to win his seven Tour de France titles. Djokovic, a lifetime cycling fan, said at his postmatch news conference that it was “a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this.”
“He cheated the sport,” Djokovic said. “He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story.”
Djokovic did not have an easy time against the 31st-seeded Stepanek and was troubled at times by the Czech’s serve-and-volley game. But Djokovic came out laughing, and he embraced his opponent over the net at the end.
Stepanek even had chair umpire Carlos Bernardes grinning after producing an unexpected, over-the-shoulder winner to save one match point in the last game.
Djokovic will play Sunday against No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, who knocked out the last American man in the draw with a 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 20 Sam Querrey.
For the second straight year, there will be no American men in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.