Stepanek won 36 of the 67 points he played at the net, forcing Djokovic out of his comfort zone at the back of the court and making him work for every point.
“He’s skillful on the net and he was not giving me a lot of rhythm — he was changing up the pace on the ball,” Djokovic said. “Nowadays everything is based on the baseline. It’s nice to see somebody coming to the net.”
Djokovic will play Sunday against No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, who knocked out the last American man in the draw with a 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 20 Sam Querrey. For the second straight year, there will be no American men in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
In the last match of the day, fourth-seeded David Ferrer finished off a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win over 2006 Australian finalist Marcos Baghdatis with an ace, advancing to a fourth-round match against Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
No. 5 Tomas Berdych beat Austria’s Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and will next play South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who beat No. 22 Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Djokovic’s Serbian Davis Cup teammate Janko Tipsarevic advanced to a meeting with No. 10 Nicolas Almagro.
In an all-Serbian match of two former No. 1 women, 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic beat Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-3. She moved into the fourth round against Poland’s Angieszka Radwanska, who is seeded No. 4 and won her 12th straight match — including titles at Auckland and Sydney — with a 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Britain’s Heather Watson.
No. 5 Angelique Kerber and No. 19 Ekaterina Makarova, two of the four women who beat Serena Williams in 2012, will meet in the fourth round. Kerber stopped 17-year-old American Madison Keys 6-2, 7-5 in the opening match at Rod Laver Arena, then blew out the candles on a cake to celebrate her 25th birthday. The crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”
No. 6 Li Na, the 2011 French Open winner, eliminated No. 27 Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-4, 6-1 and will next play No. 18 Julia Goerges. Goerges prevented an all-China fourth-round encounter by beating Zheng Jie 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium beat Valeria Savinykh 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 and is up against Sharapova next.
All along, Sharapova had been preparing for this third-round match. She withdrew from an exhibition tournament and the Brisbane International with a sore collarbone, but hasn’t showed any signs of being troubled by it Melbourne.
“I think when we both looked at the draw, it was a matchup we were both looking forward to,” Sharapova said. “I was just really determined out there because I knew the tennis that she’s capable of producing and playing. She’s a tremendous athlete and a great champion.”
“Definitely not my best today, but there’s always other days to play better,” she said. “I just had a lot of errors. … That never helps.”
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