Williams shakes off the rust as winning streak continues

Serena polishes off Peng to reach last 16, where she is joined by six Russians
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The Independent Online

After two days of coping with the unexpected, normal business resumed for Serena Williams here yesterday. A comfortable 6-1 6-4 victory over China's Peng Shuai took the world No 2 into the fourth round of the Australian Open, where she will meet Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

As for the events of Thursday and Friday, it would be hard to say which had left Williams in greater shock. First she had seen her sister, Venus, lose to the unseeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. Twenty-four hours later the sisters were playing a doubles match when play was interrupted by a male streaker, naked from the waist downwards, who performed an impromptu dance on the court before racing off. "It obviously increases my motivation and my desire to win, hopefully to do better,"Serena said, in reference to her sister's defeat rather than the streaker.

As for the intruder, the US Open champion said she had found the incident "interesting". She explained: "First I saw him jump over and then I noticed he didn't have underwear on. I thought, 'OK, I must be seeing things'. He ran out on the court and I was thinking, 'I hope he doesn't come too close'. Then I thought, 'This is crazy. Doesn't really happen too much'. Then I just thought, 'My eyes, my innocent eyes!'

"It seemed like a long time. In those type of moments, it seems really long. But it was weird. It was just funny. Everyone was laughing."

Williams, the 2007 champion, has yet to drop a set here, though she admitted she is feeling "a little rusty". Even if the victory over Peng was an improvement on her previous win against Gisela Dulko, after which she went straight to the practice court, it was not all plain sailing. Peng, the world No 41, broke serve twice at the start of the second set to lead 3-1 beforethe American regained control.

"It was definitely a lot better than my second round, but I'm still trying to work on things," Williams said. "I started making more errors and then I lost my serve a couple of times. Then I think I put too much pressure on myself. The next thing I knew, I was down. I hit some wild shots on my backhand, which was kind of crazy.

"I seem to play well when I get down, for whatever reason. So once I got down, I was a little frustrated. Then I started playing better."

Azarenka, 19, reached the fourth round with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Amélie Mauresmo, breaking the Frenchwoman's serve six times. Azarenka lost to Williams in straight sets on their only previous meeting here 12 months ago, but has since climbed to No 14 in the world. She claimed her first title in Brisbane a fortnight ago.

"I've been watching her," Williams said. "She's been around for a while. She's young, desperate to win and hungry, all the qualities that it takes to be pretty good."

Mauresmo felt she did not play well on the big points but said she would take some encouragement from her start to the year after a disappointing 2008. "I think my level of play is coming back," she said. "It's slowly getting there. I guess I have to be patient with the things we worked on in winter."

In the semi-finals, Williams is seeded to meet Elena Dementieva, the Olympic champion, who beat Australia's Sam Stosur 7-6 6-4. The No 4 seed, one of six Russian women in the last 16, was 5-2 down in the first set but recovered to win the tie-break 8-6. Dementieva now meets the SlovakDominika Cibulkova, who beat France's Virginie Razzano 7-5 7-5.

Suarez Navarro, the conqueror of Venus, maintained her progress with another impressive victory, beating her fellow Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-1 6-4. The world No 46 now plays another compatriot, Anabel Medina Garrigues, who defeated the No 12 seed, Italy's Flavia Pennetta, 6-4 6-1.

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