Maria Sharapova on a different planet as she steamrollers Venus Williams

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VENUS Williams was unable to stop the Maria Sharapova juggernaut last night as the Russian powered into the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Sharapova, who won her first two matches in Melbourne without dropping a game, was irresistible as she crushed the seven-time major winner 6-1, 6-3 in just 79 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

It had been expected Williams would provide the second seed with a stiff challenge but she was unable to match her opponent’s power off the ground, not to mention her intensity, until the latter stages. Sharapova said: “I really wanted this victory. I was 5-1 up [in the second set] and made a couple more errors than I would have liked so I was very pleased to have served it out.” A forehand winner in the opening game handed Sharapova a break and she never looked back. A further break helped her establish a 4-0 advantage before Williams finally got on the board – ending Sharapova’s run of successive games to start the tournament at 28.

It did little to stem the flow of the match, however, as Sharapova marched on, breaking the American’s serve for a third time to take the opening set. She swiftly moved into a 3-0 lead in the second with Williams looking shellshocked. To her credit, the 32-year-old continued to fight on and she bravely held off three break points in game four, hitting back from 0-40 to take the game with a blistering forehand down the line.

It proved a minor distraction for Sharapova as, despite Williams’ best efforts, she broke for 5-1 at the fourth attempt.

She could not serve it out, however, as Williams’ pride forced her to break the Sharapova serve for the first time. But despite some surprising late jitters from Sharapova, the 25th seed could not repeat the feat when the 2008 Melbourne champion served again at 5-3. Kirsten Flipkens is the next player to stand in Sharapova’s way after the Belgian beat Russian qualifier Valeria Savinykh 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

Earlier, German Angelique Kerber, the fifth seed, was given some nervy moments by 17-year-old Madison Keys before coming through 6-2 7-5 while Li Na enjoyed a solid 6-4 6-1 win over Romanian Cirstea.

Li will next meet Julia Goerges, who overcame another Chinese player Zheng Jie 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. Radwanska will take on Ana Ivanovic, who won the all-Serbian tussle with Jelena Jankovic. Kerber next plays Ekaterina Makarova, who stunned 11th seed Marion Bartoli 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-4.