Azarenka, Serena gain Aussie Open 4th round

Updated: January 19, 2013

Top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka was on the ropes in her third-round match at the Australian Open, but she overcame American Jamie Hampton in three sets.

American Serena Williams, a five-time Aussie champ, also reached the fourth round Saturday thanks to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Japan’s Ayumi Morita.

Azarenka’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win came only after the native of Belarus rallied against Hampton, who was suffering from chronic back problems during the match. After the encounter, Hampton revealed she had a pair of herniated disks in her lower back.

“Hurt my back last year at the French Open pretty badly,” Hampton said. “It’s something I deal with day to day, and, yeah, it was hurting. Normally when my back starts hurting I start cramping.”

Hampton, ranked 63rd in the world, was ahead 2-1 in the final set, but she couldn’t convert key break point opportunities and suffered 47 unforced errors. Even being down 4-2 in that last set, Hampton raced to a 40-0 lead in the seventh game, but Azarenka saved all three break point chances and then finished off the match in 2 hours, 9 minutes.

“I think she surprised everybody a little bit today,” Azarenka said. “I didn’t really see her play before, but my coach watched and he said she didn’t play like that other matches that he saw.”

Williams recorded the fifth-fastest serve in the history of women’s tennis, rocketing one 128.7 mph in a quick first set. Morita took the first three games of the second before Williams came storming back in dominating fashion.

“Today was actually a really good match for me. I was involved in a lot of longer points, something I definitely wanted,” Williams said.

The 15-time Grand Slam champion Williams is the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champ who is seeking a third straight major title.

Caroline Wozniacki, the 10th seed from Denmark, topped Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, 6-4, 6-3.

Also Saturday, 14th-seeded Russian Maria Kirilenko disposed of 20th-seeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two- time major champion, defeated Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to advance to the round of 16 as well.

Kirilenko next faces Williams, who holds a 5-0 all-time advantage against the Russian.

Russian Elena Vesnina upended 16th-seeded Italian Roberta Vinci, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4. Vesnina faces Azarenka in the round-of-16.

America’s Sloane Stevens and Britains Laura Robson offered a glimpse of a future rivalry as the 2 teenagers battled it out for a place in the fourth round, with 29th seed Stephens eventually coming through 7-5 6-3 to take her place in the last 16.

Robson has been tipped for the top ever since she won junior Wimbledon in 2008 while Serena Williams has said that Stephens has what it takes to become the best in the world.

The American turns 20 in March while Robson, who beat eighth seed Petra Kvitova in round two, is 19 next week.