Sharapova, Serena advance
Melbourne - Former champions Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams swept into the third round of the Australian Open on Thursday as rumblings about the lack of depth in the women's game resurfaced at Melbourne Park.
Sharapova, the 2008 champion, took 64 minutes to crush American qualifier Jamie Hampton 6-0 6-1, while five-times winner Williams needed two minutes more to defeat Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-0 6-4.
The third former winner in the women's draw, defending champion Kim Clijsters, progressed with a 6-0 6-1 victory on the same Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday.
While the dreaded "double bagel" - a 6-0 6-0 defeat - has yet to be doled out this year, the rash of lop-sided contests has once again prompted questions about the gap in quality between the best and the rest in women's tennis.
Sharapova, who also won her first round contest for the loss of just one game, suggested it was all just a media concoction.
"I think it's just an excuse to make another story," said Sharapova, who also won her first round contest for the loss of just one game.
"That's really what it all comes down to. I think personally my goal is to go into a match and play my game. If I do it well enough and come out winning 6-0 6-1, then I've done a good job."
When fit, Williams has often been at an elite level of her own over the years and her victory over Strycova was the 500th win of her career.
"It's like the ultimate. It's really, really cool," she said of the milestone, which only her sister Venus, Clijsters and Thai Tamarine Tanasugarn have reached before her among active players.
"Five hundred is a lot of matches to play, let alone to win, so it's pretty cool."
In men's second round action on day four, French sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a finalist here in 2008, recovered from an early deficit to beat Brazilian Ricardo Mello 7-5 6-4 6-4.
Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who had a breakthrough season in 2011, hit a modest 17 aces in his 6-4 5-7 6-2 7-5 victory over Germany's Philipp Petzschner.
World number one Novak Djokovic later continues his hunt for a third title in the year's first grand slam when he takes on Colombian Santiago Giraldo for a place in the third round.
One of three former winners of the men's crown at Melbourne Park in the draw, the 24-year-old defending champion dropped just two games in his first round victory over Paolo Lorenzi.
His contemporary Andy Murray is widely predicted to be the man most likely to be the next to enter the grand slam winners' circle and he is also in second round action against Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
An older generation of grand slam champions take centre stage in the final match of the day when local Lleyton Hewitt, the former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, faces 2003 U.S. Open winner Andy Roddick in a match the American said would be a "war".