Serena Williams on Thursday stepped up her drive for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam by swatting aside Eugenie Bouchard, as world No 1 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 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.
“It wasn’t an easy match tonight,” said the 37-year-old, seeded just 16.
“So I knew ‘Serena, you’ve got to come out hot, you’ve got to come out firing, she’s a really good player and I haven’t had many matches since last year’.”
Williams is bidding to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam crowns, and win an eighth in Australia, on her first return to Melbourne Park since lifting the trophy in 2017 while pregnant.
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.
“You could feel the tension on court at the beginning. We felt a lot of emotion and tried to play a great game,” said Djokovic as the memories of that tense final came flooding back.
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.
“I have no idea how I won this, it’s so tough to explain what happened on court,” said the French Open champion, who 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 Stanislas 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.