MELBOURNE: Serena Williams stepped up her drive for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam on Thursday by swatting aside Eugenie Bouchard, as world number one Novak Djokovic won an emotional 2008 Australian Open final rematch with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But women’s top seed Simona Halep and young gun Alexander Zverev had to dig deep to make the third round on a day of epic battles and the latest start to a match ever at the tournament.
American great Williams, who at 37 is seeded 16th here, followed up her first round 49-minute romp by spending just 70 minutes on Rod Laver Arena to dispose of the Canadian 6-2, 6-2.
Serbian top seed Djokovic is also looking to make history by winning a seventh title. He was too good again for France’s Tsonga, who he beat in the 2008 final, rolling through 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
In contrast, world No.1 Halep staggered through against American Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 — her second three-set test in a row. The French Open champion now meets Venus Williams after the 38-year-old rolled back the years to beat France’s Alize Cornet.
In another titanic battle, Canadian Milos Raonic ousted 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in four tightly-contested sets that all went to tie-breaks, while eighth seed Kei Nishikori was stretched to a draining five sets against Ivo Karlovic.
Seventh seed Dominic Thiem limped out when he retired while losing 7-5, 6-4, 2-0 to young Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin.
Zverev, hailed as a flag-bearer for the next generation, also struggled against veteran world number 36 Jeremy Chardy, before putting him away 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1.
Amid rain delays and drawn-out matches, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza and Britain’s Johanna Konta didn’t get on court until half-past midnight — the latest start to a match in the event’s history. Muguruza triumphed after Konta won the second set on a tie-breaker.
US Open champion and fourth seed Naomi Osaka had it relatively easy, sweeping past Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek 6-2, 6-4 with the roof closed on Margaret Court Arena due to the rain.
The 21-year-old’s breakthrough at Flushing Meadow over Serena Williams last year made her a new standard bearer for tennis in her Japanese homeland and Asia, and she is working hard on living up to the hype as set up a clash with Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei.
In contrast, Asia’s top-ranked men’s player Nishikori needed an energy-sapping 3hr 48min to get past big-serving Croat Karlovic 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (10-7) in humid conditions.
Sixteenth seed Raonic emerged the victor against Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam champion who is on the comeback trail from injury.
The Swiss, unseeded for the first time since his debut in 2006, fell 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (13-11), 7-6 (7-5).
Despite being seeded six and seven respectively, neither Elina Svitolina nor Karolina Pliskova has progressed further than the last eight at the Australian Open.
But self-assured Svitolina is bubbling with confidence after dismantling Viktoria Kuzmova 6-4, 6-1, while Pliskova woke up after losing the first set to race past Madison Brengle 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.
Other women through include Italy’s Camila Giorgi and China’s impressive Wang Qiang. Men still in the hunt included Croat Borna Coric and Spain’s Pablo Carreno-Busta.
Thursday’s results (prefix number denotes seeding):
Second round: 8-Kei Nishikori (Japan) bt Ivo Karlovic (Croatia) 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (10-7); 11-Borna Coric (Croatia) bt Marton Fucsovics (Hungary) 6-4, 6-3, 6-4; 23-Pablo Carreno-Busta (Spain) bt Ilya Ivashka (Belarus) 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7); 12-Fabio Fognini (Italy) bt Leonardo Mayer (Argentina) 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 7-6 (7-5); Joao Sousa (Portugal) bt 32-Philipp Kohlschreiber (Germany) 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4; Pierre-Hugues Herbert (France) bt 24-Chung Hyeon (South Korea) 6-2, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4; 16-Milos Raonic (Canada) bt Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (13-11), 7-6 (7-5); 25-Denis Shapovalov (Canada) bt Taro Daniel (Japan) 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3; 21-David Goffin (Belgium) bt Marius Copil (Romania) 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4; 15-Daniil Medvedev (Russia) bt Ryan Harrison (US) 6-3, 6-3, 6-3; Filip Krajinovic (Serbia) bt Evgeny Donskoy (Russia) 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-2); Alexei Popyrin (Australia) bt 7-Dominic Thiem (Austria) 7-5, 6-4, 2-0 — Thiem retired; Alex Bolt (Australia) bt 29-Gilles Simon (France) 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-4; 28-Lucas Pouille (France) bt Maximilian Marterer (Germany) 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 6-4; 1-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) bt Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) 6-3, 7-5, 6-4; 4-Alexander Zverev (Germany) bt Jeremy Chardy (France) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1.
Second round: 27-Camila Giorgi (Italy) bt Iga Swiatek (Poland) 6-2, 6-0; 21-Wang Qiang (China) bt Aleksandra Krunic (Serbia) 6-2, 6-3; 6-Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) bt Viktoria Kuzmova (Slovakia) 6-4, 6-1; 7-Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic) bt Madison Brengle (US) 4-6, 6-1, 6-0; 13-Anastasija Sevastova (Latvia) bt Bianca Andreescu (Canada) 6-3, 3-6, 6-2; 12-Elise Mertens (Belgium) bt Margarita Gasparyan (Russia) 6-1, 7-5; 28-Hsieh Su-wei (Taiwan) bt Laura Siegemund (Germany) 6-3, 6-4; 17-Madison Keys (US) bt Anastasia Potapova (Russia) 6-3, 6-4; Timea Bacsinszky (Switzerland) bt Natalia Vikhlyantseva (Russia) 6-2, 7-5; 4-Naomi Osaka (Japan) bt Tamara Zidansek (Slovenia) 6-2, 6-4; Zhang Shuai (China) bt Kristyna Pliskova (Czech Republic) 6-3, 7-5; 1-Simona Halep (Romania) bt Sofia Kenin (US) 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4; Venus Williams (US) bt Alize Cornet (France) 6-3, 4-6, 6-0; Dayana Yastremska (Ukraine) bt 23-Carla Suarez (Spain) 6-3, 3-6, 6-1; 16-Serena Williams (US) bt Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) 6-2, 6-2; 18-Garbine Muguruza (Spain) bt Joanna Konta (Great Britain) 6-4, 6-7 (3-7); 7-5.