MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic repelled a challenge from Radek Stepanek to advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open and still had plenty left over to unleash some stinging shots at Lance Armstrong after the doping-tainted cyclist's long-expected confession.
Djokovic broke the 34-year-old, 34th-ranked Stepanek late in each set of a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win Friday, extending his winning streak to 17 matches at the Australian Open.
In the next match on Rod Laver Arena, Maria Sharapova beat Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in an unexpectedly lopsided third-round result.
Williams could consider herself fortunate — Sharapova's opponents in her first two matches failed to win a game from the Russian star.
Three matches into this tournament, and Sharapova, who pumped her arms six or seven times after she served out with an ace, has lost just four games heading into her fourth-round match against unseeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.
"I think when we both looked at the draw, it was a matchup we were both looking forward to," Sharapova said of Williams, a seven-time major winner. "I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she's capable of producing and playing. She's a tremendous athlete and a great champion."
Williams didn't feel like a great player on Friday.
"Definitely not my best today, but there's always other days to play better," she said. "I just had a lot of errors (26) ... that never helps."
At Djokovic's post-match news conference, the questions quickly turned from tennis to Armstrong's confessions about doping in cycling during his television interview with Oprah Winfrey in the U.S. Thursday night.
"I think it's a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this," said Djokovic, the No. 1-ranked man in tennis. "He cheated the sport. He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story."
Djokovic, who has five Grand Slam titles, said the doping program in tennis was sufficient to catch the cheats, though he conceded he hasn't had a blood test that could detect illegal oxygen-boosting agents for six months.
He will play No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4 on Friday, in the fourth round.
Querrey's loss meant that for the second consecutive year, there will be no American men in the fourth round at Melbourne Park. Last year was the first time no U.S. man reached the fourth round at the Australian Open since 1973 — when no Americans traveled to the tournament.
During Friday's match, Djokovic was troubled at times against the wily Stepanek, who mixed up the tempo with a lot of serve-and-volley and some unorthodox shot-making.
"Absolutely it was great. Great match and great fun," Djokovic said. "It's always tricky to play Radek. He's a talented player. Skillful player."
Told about the statistics — Stepanek won 36 of the 67 points he played at the net — Djokovic wasn't surprised at all.
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