Australian Open: Big names keep it short on court as opponents are blitzed

Fans caught a fleeting glimpse of Novak Djokovic at Rod Laver Arena yesterday as the Serb hurtled into the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova also made brief appearances and were on court for less than an hour as injuries and mismatches again blighted the women’s draw, while Maria Sharapova handled the first true test of her Open credentials in style to sweep into the next round.

World No.1 Djokovic secured his place in the last 16 by beating Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, whose 11-hours-and-five-minutes marathon match with John Isner at Wimbledon 2010 was the longest in tennis history. It took the Serb nine hours and 51 minutes less to beat Mahut, who was hindered by heavy strapping on his knee.

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“Obviously I feel for my opponent, who evidently could not move on the court,” Djokovic said after his 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 romp. “I think most of the people expected him to just retire ... and walk out of the court. But he managed to stay. So all the credit for him.”

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga steamrollered Portugal’s Frederico Gil 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 but, while his fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet joined him after an impressive 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win over Janko Tipsarevic, three more of their countrymen fell by the wayside.

Gael Monfils battled back bravely from two sets down before losing in five to Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, Julien Benneteau was upended by Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Michael Llodra fell to Andy Murray.

Nishikori is the first Japanese man to advance to the last 16 of the Australian Open since tennis was declared open in 1968.

In the last singles match of the day, Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt scored an emotional 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 win over Canadian Milos Raonic and will now meet Djokovic in the fourth round.

Serena Williams, the last American standing at Melbourne Park after Vania King’s exit on Saturday, raced into the last 16 in 59 minutes with a powerhouse display that left Greta Arn stunned after a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing. “I really don’t think when I go out there that I’m the last American,” said 13-times grand slam champion Williams. “I just think I’m trying to come in here and win this match, play this girl.”

Wimbledon champion Kvitova’s match was only 38 minutes old when Russian Maria Kirilenko retired hurt. The 24-year-old had dropped the first set 6-0 and was broken in the first game of the second before retiring.

Sharapova needed nearly 90 minutes to get past German Angelique Kerber, an eternity compared to Williams and Kvitova. The Russian, who beat Kerber 6-1, 6-2 and has conceded just five games in three matches, has been the model of concentration so far, refusing to let conditions or other factors affect her.

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“I think your time and commitment has to be on the court, the ball and racket, what you’re doing with it, instead of paying attention to what’s around you,” she said.

n Scotland’s Colin Fleming and his American partner Liezel Huber moved into the second round of the mixed doubles with a straight-sets defeat of Raquel Kops-Jones and Eric Butorac.

Kops-Jones and Butorac were late replacements for the more established pair of Daniel Nestor and Maria Kirilenko, after the Russian woman injured her upper leg in her singles defeat to Petra Kvitova earlier.

But they were unable to make the most of their opportunity as Fleming and Huber won 7-5, 6-2 in an hour and ten minutes.