MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Maria Sharapova leaned back and pumped her arms. She ripped her elbows back and forth, screaming after her victory. Four pumps, five — she rocked forward — six pumps. More.
Sharapova had just defeated Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 Friday, her first victory over the seven-time major winner in a Grand Slam. This was a match clearly worth celebrating, but it was if Sharapova had won the Australian Open title eight days early.
“I was just really pumped,” she said. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
After back-to-back 6-0, 6-0 wins in the first two rounds — the first time that happened at major since 1985 — Sharapova has conceded the fewest number of games en route to the fourth round at the Australian Open since Steffi Graf did so 24 years ago. Graf also lost only four games in her first three matches on her way to the second of her three consecutive titles in Melbourne.
Sharapova knows she must stay on top of her game. Another Williams could be waiting. Since Sharapova won the French Open, to complete a career Grand Slam of all four major titles, Serena Williams has won just about everything.
Asked if she was thinking about a showdown with the younger of the Williams sisters, Sharapova said: “She’s on the other side of the draw, and other players are on the other side of the draw as well.”
That means they can meet only in the final.
“Until you get to that stage, and if you do, if you’re facing each other,” she said, “that’s the point when you’re thinking about that particular opponent.”
The top two contenders on the opposite side of the draw, defending champion Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, play one after the other at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday. Top-ranked Azarenka is first up against American Jamie Hampton, followed by Williams against Ayumi Morita of Japan.
U.S. Open champion Andy Murray follows them in a third-round match against occasional hitting partner Ricardas Berankis, a qualifier from Lithuania. Four-time Australian Open champion Roger Federer has the night match against Bernard Tomic, the last Aussie in the men’s or women’s draws.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic took another step closer to a third consecutive Australian title, defeating Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 in the third round.
His victory came on the same day Lance Armstrong admitted during a television interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used banned drugs to win his seven Tour de France titles. Djokovic, a lifetime cycling fan, said at his post-match news conference that it was “a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this.”
“He cheated the sport,” Djokovic said. “He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story.”
Djokovic did not have an easy time against the 31st-seeded Stepanek and was troubled at times by the Czech’s serve-and-volley game. But Djokovic came out laughing, and he embraced his opponent over the net at the end. Stepanek even had chair umpire Carlos Bernardes grinning after producing an unexpected, over-the-shoulder winner to save one match point in the last game.
“Absolutely, it was great. Great match and great fun,” Djokovic said. “It’s always tricky to play Radek. He’s a talented player. Skillful player.”