MELBOURNE (AFP) – World number one Novak Djokovic served up a storm to advance to the fourth round as defending champion Stan Wawrinka kept under the radar at the Australian Open on Saturday.
The Serb endured a tough workout before inflicting a 7-6 (10/8), 6-3, 6-4 defeat on tenacious Spanish 31st seed Fernando Verdasco.
Verdasco, who had beaten Djokovic in four of their previous 10 encounters, failed to prise a service break from the top seed’s 16 service games. Djokovic’s precision serving was a feature, winning 82 percent of his first serves.
“I did serve well and that helps when you are playing big servers like Fernando, who put a lot of pressure on your service games, so you have to stay composed and hang tough,” he said.
“I tried to go more for accuracy and precision and allow myself to have an easy first ball and managed to have a lot of free points, which definitely helped.”
Djokovic will now play Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller for a place in the quarter-final after Muller knocked out American 19th seed John Isner in straight sets. Djokovic is the favourite for his fifth Australian Open title following Roger Federer’s shock exit in Friday’s third round.
Wawrinka, who made his Grand Slam breakthrough in Melbourne last year, said he was happy flying under the radar after easing into the round of 16 and nominated Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as title favourites.
The Swiss fourth seed cruised through 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 over Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen on Rod Laver Arena and will now play Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
“I’m feeling good since the beginning of the tournament,” he said.
“For sure I’m not the focus on the tournament because there’s Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal coming back from injury, as was Roger Federer before he lost.” Japan’s fifth seed Kei Nishikori battled back from a set down to oust American Steve Johnson and reach the last 16.
Nishikori won 6-7 (7/9), 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in 2hr 29min on Hisense Arena and will next face Spain’s David Ferrer, who knocked out French seed Gilles Simon in four long sets.
The 25-year-old, a superstar at home, was nervous in the opening set before a cheering pro-Japanese crowd, but he gradually wore down the 38th-ranked American to reach the round of 16 for the fourth straight year.
“It was a nice battle and I was playing solid in the last couple of sets, so it was a very good win today,” Nishikori said. Power-serving eighth seed Milos Raonic smashed 22 aces on the way to a straight sets demolition of Benjamin Becker.
The Canadian defeated the German 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in just 1hr 41min on Hisense Arena to ease into the round of 16 where he will face Spanish 12th seed Feliciano Lopez.
Raonic, 24, is on track for a likely semi-final with Djokovic if he can get past Lopez.