Five months after he ended a 76-year drought for British men in Grand Slam tournaments with a win at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray is into the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and on track to make it two in a row.
The third-ranked Murray easily beat Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 on Monday, his fourth straight-sets win in a row, and will play unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the quarter-finals. Chardy won the last time the pair met in Cincinnati last year.
Simon was coming off a tough five-set win over fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils and clearly wasn't in any shape to take on Murray.
"After the first few games, I mean, it didn't feel like that competitive," Murray said. "Sort of at this stage of a Grand Slam you're sort of geed up and prepared for a tough battle. That's why it becomes hard because the emotions aren't quite into it."
Simon, who coughed frequently during the match, said facing Murray was "a painful hour and a half on the court."
"It is difficult when you run a marathon two days before to run another one two days after," Simon said.
Serena Williams had a similarly easy time advancing to the quarter-finals and a chance to win her third major in a row with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Maria Kirilenko. She's still on course for potential semifinal meeting with defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who advanced 6-1, 6-1 over Elena Vesnina earlier in the day.
"I didn't expect to come out and play so well tonight," Williams said. "I was like 'Wow!' I saw I had 95 per cent first serves in the first set. I said 'Who is this girl?' It's not me usually."
Williams has lost only one match since her first-round exit at the French Open last year. Since then, she has won the Wimbledon, Olympic, U.S. Open, season-ending championship and Brisbane International titles.
Her 57-minute win over Kirilenko extended her current winning streak to 20 matches.
The 31-year-old Williams can become the oldest woman to hold the world No. 1-ranking by winning her sixth Australian Open title. She next plays 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who reached the quarter-finals at a major for the first time with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win earlier Monday over Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.
Second-seeded Roger Federer overcame big-serving Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Monday night to reach the quarter-finals at a 35th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.
Federer has won four of his 17 major titles at Melbourne Park, where he has reached the semifinals or better every year since first winning the Australian Open in 2004.
Chardy followed up his upset win over 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro by beating another higher ranked player in the fourth round, defeating No. 21 Andreas Seppi 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 on Monday.
Another Frenchman through was seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat his old friend Richard Gasquet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the fourth round.
Tsonga, who lost the 2008 Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic, could meet 17-time major winner Federer in the quarter-finals.
Waiting on the other side of the draw is top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who could only meet Federer or Murray in the final and who plays his quarter-final match Tuesday against Tomas Berdych. Djokovic advanced to the quarters after a five-hour, two-minute fourth-round match over Stanislas Wawtrinka in the early hours of Monday.
'Top battles starting now'
Azarenka's fourth-round win was about as impressive as that of Williams.
"It's getting there … with every match you start building up for the top battles starting now," said Azarenka, who only needed 57 minutes to beat the 47th-ranked Vesnina. "It's really exciting to be again so far in the tournament."
Azarenka started last season with a 26-match winning streak, including a lopsided victory over Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final.
She moved to No. 1 in the rankings with that win and has remained there for all but a few weeks ever since.
But she needs to defend her Australian title to hold the top spot from French Open champion Sharapova or Williams.
Next up for Azarenka is a quarter-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova, who entered the season's first major ranked No. 75, but has won titles at the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open.
'She gets a little worried'
After five breaks of serve in the third set, Stephens broke Jovanovski and then held to advance — knowing her parents and grandparents were watching on TV.
"I'm sure my mother's had like four heart attacks," Stephens joked after the see-sawing match. "I hope my Grandpa didn't have to put my Grandma to bed because she gets a little worried."
Williams, who has rated Stephens as a potential world No. 1, beat Stephens in straight sets two weeks ago at the Brisbane International, one of the warmup tournaments for the Australian Open.
Stephens is looking forward to a rematch, where there won't be any major surprises.
"It will be tough, obviously, it's quarters of a Grand Slam," she said. "There won't be that like first time, 'Oh, my God, I'm playing Serena'. That's kind of out of the window now. So that's good. And then it will feel more of like a regular match instead of all the other like things to think about. "
'She has all the pressure'
Kuznetsova was given a time warning for taking too long during a changeover in her 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win earlier Monday over former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, but said it didn't bother her.
As for Wozniacki, after twice failing to win her breakthrough major as the No. 1-ranked woman at the Australian Open, she is now expected to drop out of the Top 10 after a fourth-round loss that follows back-to-back first-round exits at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Kuznetsova is moving in the other direction on her comeback from a right knee injury that ruled her out of the last U.S. Open, ending a run of contesting 40 consecutive majors. And she's looking forward to taking on Azarenka.
"The time I played in Indian Wells was totally a disaster. I got [beaten] very badly," she said. "But, I mean, she's tough; she's No. 1; I have nothing to lose; she has all the pressure.
"I know I got the game to give her some problems, and I will just do my best and just try to enjoy it."