Djokovic Extends Run in Australian as Sharapova Ties Graf Start

Novak Djokovic extended his winning streak to 17 matches yesterday at the Australian Open, where Maria Sharapova routed Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 to tie the record for fewest games lost in the first three rounds.

Women’s No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska extended her perfect record in 2013, while fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber made the round of 16 at the season-opening tennis Grand Slam tournament on her birthday.

Top-seeded Djokovic defeated Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 to advance to the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the seventh year in a row. The Serb is seeking to become the first man to win three straight Australian Open titles since the professional era began in 1968.

“It wasn’t an easy match,” Djokovic, 25, said in a news conference. “He’s very skillful, comes to the net, never gives you the same ball twice. That’s something that makes him a different player from most of the guys.”

Djokovic will next play No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, who was a straight-set winner against 20th-seeded Sam Querrey, the only American man left in the singles draw. With 11-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal absent because of injury and illness, Djokovic is in line to face No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain in the semifinals.

Today, top-seed Victoria Azarenka will play Jamie Hampton of the U.S, and Britain’s Andy Murray takes on 110th-ranked Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. Record 17-time men’s Grand Slam singles champion Roger Federer plays Australia’s Bernard Tomic, and American Serena Williams, seeded third, faces Ayumi Morita of Japan.

Ferrer, who led the men’s tour with a career-best seven titles last year, beat 28th-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to close day five.

Nishikori Meeting

Ferrer next meets Kei Nishikori after the No. 16 from Japan had a straight-set win against Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy. Eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic won his second straight five-set match to become the second Serbian man to reach the fourth round at all four majors. He’ll take on No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain in the next round.

“Right now I feel really, really tired,” Tipsarevic said after beating Julien Benneteau of France 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. “It could have gone either way. I really consider myself lucky to be a winner today.”

Kevin Anderson outlasted Fernando Verdasco, the No. 22 from Spain, in five sets to become the first South African man in 10 years to reach a Grand Slam fourth round, where he’ll play No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Worst Defeat

Women’s No. 2 seed Sharapova took 79 minutes to defeat seven-time major champion Williams of the U.S. on Rod Laver Arena. It was Williams’s worst defeat in Melbourne since a 6-1, 6-1 semifinal loss to Martina Hingis of Switzerland in 2001.

Sharapova, who won the tournament in 2008, had advanced to the third round by becoming the first woman in 28 years to secure back-to-back 6-0, 6-0 wins at a Grand Slam. Her loss of only four games en route to the last 16 tied 22-time major champion Steffi Graf’s 1989 mark for the fewest by any woman at that stage since the Australian Open moved to 128-player draws.

“The reason I started so well in this tournament is because I knew that I had to,” said Sharapova, who had to withdraw from her only tuneup because of a collarbone injury. “I hadn’t played a professional match, a real match, in over two months. I was just really determined from the start.”

She’ll take on Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium for a place in the quarterfinals.

Kerber, who turned 25 yesterday, was presented with a cake and serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by the crowd after beating U.S. teenager Madison Keys 6-2, 7-5 to reach the fourth round.

Birthday Treat

“It was a very tough match because Madison is a great young player,” Kerber said after winning in 100 minutes. “I’m so happy to win on my birthday.”

Kerber, who last season became the first German woman to finish in the year-end top five since Graf in 1996, next faces Ekaterina Makarova after the 19th-seeded Russian ousted No. 11 Marion Bartoli of France in three sets.

Li Na, the No. 6 seed from China and 2011 runner-up in Melbourne, beat Sorana Cirstea of Romania to set up a fourth-round matchup with No. 18 Julia Goerges of Germany.

Radwanska, from Poland, stayed unbeaten this year with a 6-3, 6-1 victory against Heather Watson of Britain. Organizers temporarily shut the retractable roofs on the two main stadiums following light drizzle as temperatures in Melbourne dropped below the mid-20s Celsius after hitting a high of 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) two days ago.

Radwanska, who tuned up by winning back-to-back titles in Auckland and Sydney, is yet to lose a set in 12 matches this year after breaking into the top five in 2012.

“I’m really playing good and everything is working,” Radwanska, 23, said. “I just hope I keep going. Now it’s gonna be harder and harder playing against seeded players.”

She moves on to play No. 13 Ana Ivanovic, who defeated 22nd-seeded Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-3 in a matchup of former No. 1-ranked players from Serbia. The runner-up to Sharapova at Melbourne Park in 2008, Ivanovic has lost her last four meetings with Radwanska.

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