Novak Djokovic was back to his ominous best Friday with a straight-sets romp into the Australian Open last 16 as Aryna Sabalenka and Jannik Sinner emphatically stated their title credentials. US Open champion Coco Gauff also signalled her intent in a 6-0, 6-2 drubbing while 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva kept her dream run going with a fightback against France’s Diane Parry. Another young Russian, qualifier Maria Timofeeva, joined them in the fourth round by upsetting 10th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia and in doing so became the lowest-ranked woman since 2017, at 170, to get so far at Melbourne Park.
Ten-time champion Djokovic has not been at his best until now, dropping sets in both of his opening matches, admitting he was feeling under-the weather.
But the Serbian superstar’s bid for a record-breaking 25th Grand Slam crown got firmly back on track against 30th seed Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry with a routine 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) win on Rod Laver Arena.
“I think the best performance I had during this tournament,” he said after his 100th Australian Open match, with only Roger Federer (117) and Serena Williams (105) playing more.
“I am pleased with the way I played through the entire match, particularly the first two sets.”
The world number one will face journeyman French 20th seed Adrian Mannarino next.
Fellow defending champion Sabalenka was unstoppable in a crushing 6-0, 6-0 canter over 28th-seed Lesia Tsurenko while Sinner dropped just four games in crushing Sebastian Baez.
Rejuvenated former teen prodigy Amanda Anisimova was also a winner on day six, ending Paula Badosa’s Grand Slam injury comeback 7-5, 6-4.
Anisimova, returning from eight months on the sidelines due to burnout and mental health issues, faces Sabalenka next and will have to lift her level to stand any chance.
The second seed, who won her maiden Grand Slam crown in Melbourne last year, has dropped just six games over three dominant matches so far.
– Even better –
Wearing vivid red, she was in the zone against Ukraine’s Tsurenko, racing home in just 52 minutes.
“Last year (world number one) Iga (Swiatek) won so many sets 6-0 and this is one of the goals,” she said. “I’m trying to get closer to her.
“I’m super happy with the level I’m playing at so far and hopefully I can keep going like that or even better.”
Fourth-seed Sinner came into the opening Grand Slam of the year after ending 2023 in the best form of his life.
He won his first Masters title in Toronto and reached the championship match at the ATP Finals, beating Djokovic in group play, before leading Italy to the Davis Cup title.
So far, he has lived up to expectations and is yet to drop a set, unlike the trio of players ahead of him in the rankings — defending champion Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev.
“Generally, I’m playing really well and feeling great here,” said Sinner, who will next play Russian 15th seed Karen Khachanov.
Andreeva underlined her huge potential by crushing sixth seed Ons Jabeur in under an hour in round two and showed her grit to overcome Parry 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10/5).
Timofeeva’s stunning run continued with a 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 win over Brazil’s Haddad Maia, having already beaten former champion Caroline Wozniacki.
At 170 in the world and in her first Grand Slam, she is the lowest-ranked woman to get so far in Melbourne since Germany’s Mona Barthel seven years ago.
“It feels like a fairytale, but with the support of this amazing crowd, I feel like anything is possible,” she said.
Fifth seed Andrey Rublev also won to set up a showdown with home hope Alex de Minaur. Seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and 12th seed Taylor Fritz both triumphed and will meet each other for a place in the quarter-finals.