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Serena sets record, Stosur stumbles Ivanovic shows glimpses of former best at Australia Open

MELBOURNE, Jan 17, (AFP): Top seed Serena Williams set a new record en route to the Australian Open fourth round Friday as Li Na narrowly avoided an upset and Samantha Stosur suffered more heartbreak in front of her home fans. On another hot Melbourne day, Williams, the world number one and five-time tournament champion, powered past Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-3 to record her 61st Australian Open win, surpassing the previous mark set by Margaret Court. Asked which had been her favourite matches, Williams, who made her Melbourne debut as a 16-year-old in 1998, replied: “All the finals I was able to win.” Few are betting against the American adding a sixth Australian title after another sublime performance from a player who is gunning to match the achievement of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in winning her 18th Grand Slam.

She used her powerful serve to help dull the challenge from the experienced Slovak to set up a fourth-round clash with former world number one Ana Ivanovic, who came from a set down to beat 2011 US Open champion Stosur. “I feel good to have gotten through that one because it was tough conditions out there,” Williams said, referring to temperatures which were already at 36 Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) at the 11:00 am start. The American, who has lost just 12 games in her three matches so far, added that she needed to lift her game further against Ivanovic. “If I don’t, I won’t be in the tournament much longer,” she said. Ivanovic, who won the warm-up Auckland International, showed glimpses of her former best to win 6-7 (8/10), 6-4, 6-2 against Stosur, who threw away a one-set lead.

The defeat extended Stosur’s struggles at the Australian Open, where she has never gone beyond the fourth round in 12 attempts. “The conditions were hot and I am very happy and thrilled to get through,” said Serbia’s Ivanovic, seeded 14. But Chinese fourth seed Li was fortunate to still be in contention after surviving an onslaught by Czech Lucie Safarova. Li, who lost in the final to Victoria Azarenka last year, self-destructed in the first set and had to draw on all her experience to find a way past the 26th seed. In doing so, she saved a match point in the second set and then battled through a tiebreak before winning 1-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 in a two-and-a-half hour marathon. “In the beginning she played very nice, very good and it was tough to find any rhythm,” said the popular Li, who has more than 10 million fans on Chinese social media.

“I’m happy I was able to fight and win the match. I just tried to play at the baseline and move the ball around the court.” She now plays 22nd seed Ekaterina Makarova for a place in the quarter-finals after the Russian eased past unseeded Romanian Monica Niculescu in straight sets. Ninth seeded German left-hander Angelique Kerber also progressed, beating American Alison Riske 6-3, 6-4, and will face veteran Flavia Pennetta for a place in the last eight after the Italian got past German Mona Barthel in two sets. Kerber said Pennetta was a friend, and predicted a close encounter. “Every match starts from zero, and I know that she will give everything she has to beat me. It will be a tough match, and I need to be ready for that,” she said. Elsewhere, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard easily beat American Lauren Davis and now has Australian Casey Dellacqua standing in the way of her first ever Grand Slam quarter-final appearance.

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