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Federer, Serena in top form

Last updated on: January 19, 2005 18:58 IST

Svetlana Kuznetsova shrugged off the doping row clouding her Australian Open campaign to reach the third round on Wednesday and was swiftly joined by men's champion Roger Federer and Serena Williams.

Reigning US Open champion and fifth seed in Melbourne, Kuznetsova crushed Marion Bartoli of France 6-2, 6-0 in a mere 40 minutes -- a performance that matched the scorching hot Melbourne Park temperatures.

Seventh seed Williams, the 2003 champion, needed just one game more and eight minutes longer to thrash Madagascar's Dally Randriantefy 6-3, 6-0 while Federer, four-times Melbourne champion Andre Agassi and last year's runner-up Marat Safin showed they could keep pace with the top women with quickfire wins.

But Wimbledon champion and Kuznetsova's compatriot Maria Sharapova struggled harder before the fourth seed overcame unseeded American Lindsay Lee-Waters 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.

Temperatures at Melbourne Park edged towards 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and second seed Amelie Mauresmo took a welcome break at the end of the second set of her match against teenager Dinara Safina, Marat Safin's little sister.

Mauresmo had got off to a slow start but returned refreshed after the break -- allowed under the tournament's heat policy -- to beat a wilting Safina 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.

The temperature had cooled by the time Federer took to Rod Laver Arena and the world number one turned in a hugely entertaining match, peppering Japanese qualifier Takao Suzuki with audacious passing shots on his way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win.

"I had a lot of fun out here tonight. Just good enough is not enough any more these days, even for me," Federer said.

KUZNETSOVA UNFAZED

But most of the attention on day three was fixed firmly on Kuznetsova after a Belgian government minister this week said she had tested positive for ephedrine at a charity exhibition tournament in Charleroi last month.

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Kuznetsova seemed unfazed by all the attention. She smiled and happily signed autographs after her resounding win.

"I feel like the star here," she said of all the attention.

"I don't feel like I did something wrong. I just try to take it out of my mind because I need to play my game, this is my first priority," Kuznetsova said.

Outraged tennis officials have lashed Belgian regional sports minister Claude Eerdekens for naming the Russian and vowed not to punish Kuznetsova, who pleaded her innocence after taking cold medicine during the Charleroi exhibition.

WTA Tour officials said ephedrine is not a banned substance during "out-of-competition" exhibition events and were upset that Eerdekens commented on the case before the testing process was complete.

Eerdekens has refused to apologise, while Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishchev accused him of being biased and trying to diminish Russia's recent tennis success.

PHENOMENAL YEAR

Russian women had a phenomenal year in 2004, sweeping the last three Grand Slam singles titles and taking over the game from Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, last year's Australian finalists who are absent this year with injuries.

That Russian success has been mirrored in Melbourne, where 14 women reached the second round.

Kuznetsova and Sharapova were soon joined in the third round by unseeded Vera Douchevina and Evgenia Linetskaya. Douchevina, 18, upset ninth seed and compatriot Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3, while Linetskaya hammered Slovak Martina Sucha 6-0, 6-2.

Eleventh seed Nadia Petrova later made it five Russians through to the third round when she fought off Australian schoolgirl Sophie Ferguson 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.

Fourth seed Safin, beaten Melbourne finalist in 2004 and 2002, stood up for the Russian men with a no-nonsense 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 defeat of Czech Bohdan Ulihrach to reach the third round.

Williams's dazzling tennis matched her fluorescent lime green and white outfit and she hammered six aces past Randriantefy.

"It's definitely getting better and better with each match," said Williams, who was unable to defend her Australian title last year because of a knee injury.

British tennis also enjoyed a rare bright moment when unseeded Elena Baltacha became the first British woman to reach the third round of the Australian Open since Clare Wood in 1991.

Baltacha beat Stephanie Cohen-Aloro of France 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, her unexpected success forcing her to change her plane booking home for the fifth time.

At the other end of the tennis spectrum, Agassi thrashed Rainer Schuettler 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 -- allowing Schuettler one game fewer than when he beat the German for his fourth Australian title in 2003.

"It's a good feeling to be playing in an environment that you played so well in," Agassi said.

Paul Tait in Melbourne
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