MELBOURNE, Jan 18: Maria Sharapova laid down her Australian Open title credentials on a scorching hot Melbourne day on Thursday, with Caroline Garcia and fellow veteran Agnieszka Radwanksa joining her in the third round.
With the temperatures heading towards an energy-sapping 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) and ice-towels in use, the Russian drawcard worked hard to get off court early against Anastasija Sevastova.
It was the Latvian 14th seed who ended her Grand Slam comeback in the last 16 of the US Open in 2017 as she returned from a drug ban. But not this time.
Sharapova was unstoppable in racing through the first set 6-1 before a battle in the second to prevail 7-6 (7/4), proving she must again be taken seriously.
�You know, it was a warm day. I did my job in two sets against someone that�s been troubling in the past for me,� she said afterwards.
�So third round of the Australian Open. I think I deserve to smile out there after that victory.�
Being unseeded means she has her work cut out to reach another final, with a host of hurdles in her way.
Next up is in-form 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who defeated Donna Vekic 6-4, 6-1 and is starting to show glimpses of her best again after a miserable last year.
Eighth seed Garcia also stayed in the title hunt, but she found it hard going against Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova who pushed her to three gruelling sets.
The Frenchwoman, who had a breakout year in 2017, winning two titles, eventually got over the line 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 8-6 in almost two-and-a-half hours.
�My feet are burning,� she said. �But we know it�s like this in Australia � the next day it can be freezing.�
Two-time tournament semifinalist Radwanksa, who has slid down the rankings and is only seeded 26, continued her under-the-radar progress with a three set win over Lesia Tsurenko.
She will face Taiwan�s Hsieh Su-wei who got the better of third seed Garbine Muguruza.
British hope Johanna Konta is no longer in contention after she was bundled out by American �lucky loser� Bernarda Pera.
Sydney-born Konta, a quarterfinalist last year, was no match for the American, who is only in the main draw after a player pulled out before the Grand Slam began, as she fell 6-4, 7-5.
Among men through to the third round was Spain�s 21st seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who swept past American Tim Smyczek in straight sets.
Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, ranked 80, piled more misery on the United States, beating 13th seed Sam Querrey, with the American contingent in Melbourne � men and women � decimated in the early rounds.
Defending champion Roger Federer continued his march towards a landmark 20th Grand Slam title by snuffing out the threat of Jan-Lennard Struff.
Federer maintained his perfect record of always reaching the third round at Melbourne Park, in his 19th appearance, with a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory in a highly-entertaining encounter.
Twelve-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic overcame temperatures of up to 37 degrees Celsius as well as the challenge of playing Gael Monfils to ensure he was not one of the seeds to fall during the afternoon session of day four.
Djokovic had actually requested the afternoon slot for his second-round clash but admitted after the match that he had struggled with the heat.
In other matches, rising talent Alexander Zverev endured a mid-match lapse but steadied to defeat Peter Gojowczyk 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in an all-German battle and reach the third round while struggling Swiss former winner Stan Wawrinka was knocked out by American Tennys Sandgren in the second round.
World number one Simona Halep dispatched Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-2 on the Margaret Court Arena � Agencies