Melbourne: Normal service resumed at the Australian Open on Saturday. Roger Federer and Serena Williams outclassed their opponents to book their places in the second week and Lleyton Hewitt gave Australians hope of an overdue local champion by pounding his.
The only place busier than the Rod Laver Arena was the casualty ward. Three players, including the 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis, succumbed to injury as the first grand slam of the year lived up to its reputation as a test of survival as much as skill.
The packed centre court was heaving with anticipation when Baghdatis and Hewitt prepared to lock horns. Their last match, two years ago, had been an epic that did not finish 0434, but this one ended in a whimper.
Hewitt won the opening set 6-0 and was leading 4-2 in the second when Baghdatis quit, unable to continue because of a shoulder injury.
Earlier, Austria's Stefan Koubek retired after one set of his match against Spain's Fernando Verdasco after being drained by the effects of a mystery virus.
Russia's Mikhail Youzhny withdrew before the start of play because of a wrist problem, handing Poland's Lukasz Kubot a free ride into the next stage.
Of the third round matches that went the full distance, all went according to the script even after Nadia Petrova had given hope to the would-be giantkillers still left in the tournament when she upset Kim Clijsters on Friday.
Federer, his confidence growing with each match, provided a masterful display against Spain's Albert Montanes, winning 6-3 6-4 6-4 to extend his incredible record of making it to the last 16 of every grand slam since the 2004 French Open.
"I don't want to say I'm playing the best tennis of my life, because I haven't had to so far," the world number one said.
"I feel like I'm obviously fresh and ready to take on the bigger names."
Serena Williams also turned in her best performance of the week, trouncing Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0 6-3 to remain on track to defend the title she won for the fourth time last year.
"I felt like I played okay," the American said. "I still feel like I can do better."
Her older sister Venus had a tougher time but still managed to carve out a 6-1 7-6 win over Australia's Casey Dellacqua. The Australian Open has not been a happy hunting ground for Venus though she has never given up hope of winning it one day.
"Who's ever satisfied? The people that have retired," she said. "The people still on tour, we're not satisfied. I think that's definitely my attitude."
Serbia's Novak Djokovic showed he was building the kind of momentum that carried him to the 2008 title, giving up just four games in a 6-1 6-1 6-2 demolition of Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin.
"At some stage in the tournament you want to have a straight sets win, an easy win, so you can get fast off the court and try to save all the energy as much as you can for the upcoming challenges, which are obviously gonna be more difficult," Djokovic said.
"So it was good to have the match like this."
Nikolay Davydenko is also impressing those who tipped the Russian as a dark horse for the title after he eased to a routine 6-0 6-3 6-4 victory over Argentina's Juan Monaco.
Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki continued to slide quietly through the women's draw, beating Israel's Shahar Peer 6-4 6-0 and will play Li Na, one of two Chinese women through to the last 16.
While Hewitt's abbreviated match against Baghdatis may have been a letdown for the organisers they can at least take some comfort in knowing his win has set up a blockbuster clash on Monday with Federer.
"You play for those moments, to play against the best players -- Roger is that," Hewitt said.
"This is what motivates you. If you can't get up for these matches, you shouldn't be playing the game."
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