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Serena sizzles as No. 1 Azarenka struggles

MELBOURNE, Australia — Title favorite Serena Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka advanced in contrasting styles to the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Williams, aiming for a third consecutive major title, recovered from a breakdown in the second set early today to win six straight games and finish off a 6-1, 6-3 win over Japan's Ayumi Morita in 66 minutes.

The 15-time major winner surprised herself with another serve at 128 mph, matching her career fastest serve she hit earlier in the tournament.

"I tried to hit it really hard. I hit 207 (kilometers per hour) the other day and I thought it was luck," she said. "But I did it again and I was like, 'Whew!' I'm going to try to go for 210."

Meanwhile, top-ranked Azarenka struggled to hold off injured American Jamie Hampton 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

Hampton needed a medical timeout for a lower back problem before she served out the second set and winced in pain throughout the third. She managed to hit 41 winners and fluster Azarenka, who didn't help herself with six double faults and 28 unforced errors.

"She played incredible, went for every single shot," Azarenka said. "I felt it was touching every single line. She took a medical timeout, but she rips winners all over the place. And I was like, 'Can I have a back problem?' I'm feeling great, but I'm missing every shot."

The women's No. 1 overcame an early break and fended off triple break point in the seventh game of the deciding set before clinching the match.

Second-seeded Maria Sharapova ousted Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 late Friday for her first victory over the seven-time major winner in a Grand Slam.

After 6-0, 6-0 wins in the first two rounds — the first time that happened at a major since 1985 — Sharapova has conceded the fewest number of games en route to the fourth round at the Australian Open since Steffi Graf 24 years ago. Graf also lost only four games in her first three matches.

"Definitely not my best day," said Venus Williams, now 32 and ranked 26th. She spent much of the match lunging after Sharapova's returns and groundstrokes instead of attacking.

On the men's side, top-ranked Novak Djokovic took another step toward a third consecutive title, beating Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.

Djokovic did not have an easy time against the 31st seed, who used his serve-and-volley game to win 36 of the 67 points at the net, forcing Djokovic out of his comfort zone.

But Djokovic embraced his foe afterward, saying: "Great match and great fun. It's always tricky to play Radek."

Obituary: Gertrude "Gussie" Moran, who shocked the tennis world in 1949 when she took the court at Wimbledon with a short skirt and ruffled underwear, died at age 89 in Los Angeles. She had recently been hospitalized with cancer.

.Australian Open

Key results

Men Novak Djokovic (1) d. Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3, 7-5; David Ferrer (4) d. Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 6-2, 6-3; Tomas Berdych (5) d. Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Women Victoria Azarenka (1) d. Jamie Hampton 6-4, 4-6, 6-2; Maria Sharapova (2) d. Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3; Serena Williams (3) d. Ayumi Morita 6-1, 6-3; Maria Kirilenko (14) d. Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.

Today on TV: 7 p.m. Tennis; 9 p.m., 3 a.m., ESPN2

Serena sizzles as No. 1 Azarenka struggles 01/18/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 19, 2013 12:13am]

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