Djokovic, Sharapova Have Their Best Grand Slam Starts; Murray, Hewitt Win

Former winners Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova advanced to the Australian Open’s fourth round, losing five games between them to complete career-best starts in the first week of a tennis Grand Slam.

Men’s top seed Djokovic, who won 10 titles last year including three of the four majors, routed 81st-ranked Nicolas Mahut of France 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 yesterday after women’s No. 4 Sharapova beat unseeded German Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2.

Djokovic is trying to become the fifth man to win three straight Grand Slam titles since tennis’s Open era began in 1968. The Serb, who won his second title at Melbourne Park last year, has dropped 10 games for his best start through his opening three matches in 29 appearances at the majors.

“The conditions are great,” Djokovic, who will next face former finalist Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, said in a news conference. “They’re very suitable to my style of the game, day and night. I’m really looking forward to next week.”

Sharapova, who won the title in Melbourne four years ago, is also off to an unprecedented start in her 35th Grand Slam appearance after losing just five games in the opening week.

Sharapova is playing in her first event of 2012. She arrived in Melbourne nearly two weeks early after skipping the Brisbane International to rest an ankle injury.

Aggressive Approach

“Coming in here without any matches, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Sharapova, who next faces 14th-seeded German Sabine Lisicki. “But from the first point in the first round I’ve been really aggressive and it has been working for me.”

Five-time women’s champion Serena Williams of the U.S. swept past Hungarian Greta Arn 6-1, 6-1 in 59 minutes last night, while fourth-seeded Andy Murray of Britain, the runner-up the past two years, beat Michael Llodra of France 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.

Hewitt, a former world No. 1, completed the day six program by battling past No. 23 seed Milos Raonic of Canada 4-6, 6-3, 7- 6 (7-5), 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt is the first wild-card entry to reach the round of 16 since Mats Wilander in 1994.

Bernard Tomic, the other Australian through to the fourth round, takes on four-time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland today, when men’s No. 2 Rafael Nadal faces fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez and Kim Clijsters playsLi Na of China in a rematch of the 2011 women’s final, which the Belgian won.

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the No. 2 seed from the Czech Republic, was leading Maria Kirilenko 6-0, 1-0 in the opening match at Rod Laver Arena when the 27th-seeded Russian quit with a thigh injury. It was the third retirement in as many days on center court after Andy Roddick of the U.S. and Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain. Kvitova will next play Ana Ivanovic, the No. 21 seed from Serbia.

Seeds Go Out

Two top-10 women’s seeds were eliminated yesterday as No. 7 Vera Zvonareva lost in straight sets to fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, while No. 9 Marion Bartoli of France was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by China’s Zheng Jie, who reached the semifinals at Melbourne Park in 2010.

Zheng, who next faces unseeded Italian Sara Errani, tuned up for the Australian Open by winning her first WTA title in more than five years in Auckland.

Men’s No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who reached the final four years ago, defeated unseeded Portuguese Frederico Gil 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. His next opponent will be 24th-seeded Kei Nishikori, who fought back to beat Julien Benneteau of France 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 and become the first Japanese man to reach tournament’s round of 16 in the Open era.

‘Excited’

“I’m excited to get through here,” Nishikori told reporters. “That’s my best result right now in Grand Slam.”

Mikhail Kukushkin also secured a first for Kazakhstan, becoming the first man from the nation to reach the round of 16 at a major by upsetting 14th-seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils in a five-set match. He’ll play Murray next.

Richard Gasquet, the No. 17 from France, upset ninth-seeded Serb Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets to reach the fourth round for the first time in four years. He’ll play No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain for a place in the quarterfinals.

For the first time since 1973, the last 16 of the Australian Open will be without a U.S. man after John Isner’s five-set loss to Feliciano Lopez of Spain two days ago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes at Melbourne Park at dbaynes@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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