Melbourne, Australia - Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka rolled to an easy third-round win Saturday at the Australian Open, while Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska also advanced.
Azarenka needed exactly one hour in a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Austrian Yvonne Meusburger to start the night session at Laver Arena. Sharapova had a much easier time earlier in the day with cooler conditions and took full advantage in 6-1, 7-6 (8-6) win over Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, while Radwanska had to rally for a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The second-seeded Azarenka traded breaks with Meusburger to start their match, but the native of Belarus dominated from there by winning the final 11 games. Azarenka broke serve seven times, won 71 percent of her first-serve points and ripped off 20 winners compared to just five for Meusburger.
"It was just a good performance I think from me," said Azarenka. "I felt like I started well and I kept that momentum throughout the match, and that's what I wanted to do today."
It's been a pretty smooth first three rounds for Azarenka, who was pushed to a tiebreaker in the first set of her opening match against Johanna Larsson and has since dropped a mere eight games.
Next up is American Sloane Stephens in a rematch of last year's semifinal affair. Azarenka prevailed in that one, 6-1, 6-4, blowing five match points in the ninth game of the second set before taking a controversial medical timeout. She then finally secured the victory in the following game.
"I have great memories of last year," Azarenka said without going into detail. "We left it all last year here, and that's what is important for me, you know, is to play another match. I'm looking forward to that match.
"Sloane is a great player, very tough competitor. She has a great record here. It's going to be tough. It only gets tougher from here. Every round, you know, is more challenging."
Stephens, who stunned Serena Williams in the quarterfinals last year, advanced Saturday with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine. The 13th seed was down 3-5 in the first set, but won six straight games to take control and didn't want to stir up anything from last year.
"It was a tough match. Obviously, semis of a Grand Slam it was pretty intense," said Stephens when asked about Azarenka. "Last year has nothing to do with this year. It's a totally different year. A lot of things have happened. So, you know, I'm just looking forward to getting back on the court."
Sharapova was back on the court two days after her 3 1/2-hour marathon win over Karin Knapp that was played in sweltering heat. It was much cooler on Saturday and the third-seeded Russian breezed through the opening set in just 32 minutes.
Cornet, though, battled back in the second with a trio of breaks, including one to force a tiebreaker. She then grabbed a 6-5 lead in the tiebreak, but the 2008 Aussie Open champ came up with a drop shot to save set point and won the next two to finally close it out.
"I just didn't have a great rhythm," said Sharapova, who also practiced after the match. "It was quite tough in the end. She had a set point and she had a chance to level the match out, which is something I probably wouldn't want to do, is go into a third set. I was happy I was able to finish it in two."
Sharapova will next meet Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, who pasted 16th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-1, 6-0.
Radwanska rebounded Saturday after a difficult first set. She was also down 0-2 in the second set, but captured 12 of the last 14 games. Pavlyuchenkova had a 39-25 edge in winners, but committed 49 unforced errors compared to 19 for Radwanska, who won't have to face former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.
Spain's Garbine Muguruza knocked off the 10th seed with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory. Muguruza has had a great start to 2014. She lost to Venus Williams in the quarterfinals of the season-opener in Auckland and won her first career title last week in Hobart.
"I worked really hard this preseason, so I think this is the reward for working so hard," said Muguruza.
Wozniacki, meanwhile, continued her downward spiral. A 21-time WTA winner but never a Grand Slam champion, the Dane has been ousted before the quarterfinals in each of the last eight major tournaments.
Jelena Jankovic and Simona Halep won third-round matches Saturday and will meet in the fourth round. The eighth-seeded Jankovic notched a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Kurumi Nara of Japan, while the 11th-seeded Halep eased past Kazakhstan qualifier Zarina Diyas, 6-1, 6-4.
Women's fourth-round play will open Sunday with Serena Williams headlining the action against 14th-seeded Serbian Ana Ivanovic. Also, fourth-seeded Li Na will take on Russia's Ekaterina Makarova and ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber will meet Italy's Flavia Pennetta. The night session at Laver Arena will start with Aussie native Casey Dellacqua against Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.