MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic absorbed plenty of pressure from Radek Stepanek before advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open, then unleashed some shots at Lance Armstrong after the long-expected confession from the doping-tainted cyclist.
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.
But he was troubled at times against a wily veteran 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.
“He’s skillful on the net and he was not giving me a lot of rhythm – he was changing up the pace on the ball,” Djokovic said. “Nowadays everything is based on the baseline. It’s nice to see somebody coming to the net.”
Stepanek had Djokovic smiling and acknowledging his winners on some points, frustrated him on others with his constant, stay-in-the-point defense, and even had chair umpire Carlos Bernardes grinning with his over-the-shoulder winner to save one match point near the end.
At Djokovic’s post-match news conference, though, the questions quickly turned from tennis to Armstrong’s confessions about doping in cycling during his television interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“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. I think they should take all his titles away because it’s not fair towards any sportsman, any athlete. I think he should suffer for his lies all these years.”
Armstrong has already been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. 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. His next match will be against the winner of the third-round match between No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 20 Sam Querrey.
Other men advancing Friday were South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who beat No. 22 Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, No. 8-ranked Janko Tipsarevic and No. 10 Nicolas Almagro , who beat No. 24-Jerzy Janowicz of Poland 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1.
In women’s matches, Angelique Kerber survived some nervous moments before fending off American teenager Madison Keys 6-2, 7-5 in their third-round match, then got to blow out the candles on a cake to celebrate her 25th birthday.
Local organizers brought a cake onto the court for Kerber immediately after the match and the crowd at Rod Laver Arena sang “Happy Birthday.” She blew out the candles and said thank you to the crowd and to the 17-year-old Keys.
“Madison is a great young player and it was very tough,” said Kerber, a semifinalist last year at Wimbledon. “So happy I won today on my birthday!”
Kerber will next play No. 19 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who advanced after a tough 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 win over 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli. In the fourth round last year, Makarova beat Serena Williams and was the first of only four women to best the powerful American in 2012. Kerber was the last.
Fourth-seeded Angieszka Radwanska, meanwhile, won her 12th match in a row with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Britain’s Heather Watson.
“I’m extremely happy to be playing my best tennis from the beginning of the year,” said Radwanska, who won tournaments in Auckland and Sydney earlier this month. “Hopefully I’ll play on the same level the rest of the tournament.”
Radwanska will now meet 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, who beat Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-3 in a matchup featuring two Serbians who were both formerly ranked No. 1.
Sixth-seeded Li Na advanced with a 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 27 Sorana Cirstea of Romania and will next play No. 18 Julia Goerges, who prevented an all-China fourth-round encounter by beating Zheng Jie 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 .
Li won the 2011 French Open just a few months after reaching the final at the Australian Open. Reigning French Open champion Maria Sharapova was playing seven-time major winner Venus Williams in a night match.
After soaring to 106 degrees on day four, the temperature dropped into the mid-70s on Friday, and light rain briefly interrupted play on some courts.