Melbourne: Sixth seed Elina Svitolina and seventh-seeded Karolina Pliskova kept their dreams of a maiden Grand Slam title alive on Thursday ahead of 23-time major winner Serena Williams swinging back into Australian Open action.
Despite being ranked in the top 10, neither has progressed further than the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.
Self-assured Svitolina dismantled Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-1 to make the third round, while Pliskova woke up after losing the first set to race past Madison Brengle 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.
Williams is in action later against Eugenie Bouchard, while six-time winner Novak Djokovic turns back the clock in a night match with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Rod Laver Arena.
World number one Simona Halep, who narrowly survived a first-round scare, is also back on court against American Sofia Kenin, who won the warm-up Hobart International and is on a six-match win streak.
Ukraine's Svitolina scored her biggest career win by clinching the WTA Finals in Singapore last October, and is bubbling with confidence.
"It definitely brought me lots of confidence and showed I can play at a really high level," she said. "So I'm just trying to transfer this to the Grand Slam."
A quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year, she next plays either Czech Kristyna Pliskova – identical twin sister of Karolina – or Zhang Shuai of China.
Karolina Pliskova's best Slam effort so far was the US Open in 2016, where she made the final and lost to Angelique Kerber.
She has made the quarters in her last two Australian Open appearances and entered this year's tournament on a high after winning the Brisbane International.
"The match had a bit of everything, some breaks, some good tennis, some bad mistakes from me too," said the Czech of her win over Brengle.
Other women through included Italy's Camila Giorgi, who plays Karolina Pliskova next, and China's impressive 21st seed Wang Qiang, who earned a third-round clash with Latvia's 13th seed Anastasija Sevastova.
In her first tour match since losing a US Open final mired in controversy, Williams delivered an ominous warning in her 49-minute opening round thrashing of Tatjana Maria.
Next in the firing line is Canadian Bouchard. They have met twice on tour before, but not since 2014, with the American winning both times.
Williams, who is bidding to match Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam crowns on her first return to Melbourne Park since winning in 2017, cited her consistency and few unforced errors as key takeaways from her first round outing.
Despite 2014 Wimbledon finalist Bouchard slipping down the rankings to 79, she said she was not taking her lightly.
"It will be a great match. She plays really well. She does everything well, and I really like that she doesn't quit," she said.
Djokovic, gunning for a record seventh title, has a fairytale meeting with Frenchman Tsonga in a rematch of their 2008 final that the Serb won.
"It's funny. I mean, 11 years after our first Grand Slam final here, it feels like a lot has happened for both of us," said Djokovic.
"He also struggled with injuries lately. It's good to see him playing well. It's good to see him back."
Men's fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who beat Djokovic to win the ATP Finals at the end of last season, takes on Jeremy Chardy, a Melbourne quarter-finalist in 2013.
Venus Williams is also in action as she looks to relive past glories against France's Alize Cornet, while fourth seed and US Open champion Naomi Osaka has a clash with Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek.
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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 09:25:25 IST