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Sunday, January 20, 2013
Updated: January 21, 10:13 PM ET
Victoria Azarenka, Serena advance

ESPN.com news services

Serena Williams had an easy time advancing to the Australian Open quarterfinals Monday and a chance to win her third major in a row with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Maria Kirilenko. She's still on course for a potential semifinal meeting with defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Elena Vesnina.

"I didn't expect to come out and play so well tonight," Williams said. "I was like 'Wow!' I saw I had 95 percent first serves in the first set. I said 'Who is this girl?' It's not me usually."

Williams has lost only one match since her first-round exit at the French Open last year. Since then, she has won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, the U.S. Open, the season-ending WTA championships and a Brisbane International title.

Her 57-minute win over Kirilenko extended her current winning streak to 20 matches.

The 31-year-old Williams can become the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking by winning her sixth Australian Open title. She next plays 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who reached the quarterfinals at a major for the first time with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win over Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.

Azarenka, meanwhile, started last season with a 26-match winning streak, including a lopsided victory over Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final.

"It's getting there ... with every match you start building up for the top battles starting now," said Azarenka, who only needed 57 minutes to beat the 47th-ranked Vesnina. "It's really exciting to be again so far in the tournament."

She moved to No. 1 in the rankings with that win and has remained there for all but a few weeks.

But she needs to defend her Australian title to hold the top spot from French Open champion Sharapova or Williams, who won Wimbledon, the London Olympics and U.S. Open titles.

Next up for Azarenka is a quarterfinal against Svetlana Kuznetsova, who entered the season's first major ranked No. 75 but has won titles at the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open.

After five breaks of serve in the third set, Stephens broke Jovanovski and then held to advance -- knowing her parents and grandparents were watching on TV.

"I'm sure my mother's had like four heart attacks," Stephens joked after the see-saw match. "I hope my Grandpa didn't have to put my Grandma to bed, because she gets a little worried."

Williams, who has rated Stephens a potential world No. 1, beat the 19-year-old American in straight sets two weeks ago at the Brisbane International, one of the warm-up tournaments for the Australian Open.

Stephens is looking forward to a rematch, where there won't be any major surprises.

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Elena Vesnina on Monday.

"It will be tough, obviously ... it's quarters of a Grand Slam," she said. "There won't be that like first time, 'Oh, my God, I'm playing Serena.' That's kind of out of the window now. So that's good. And then it will feel more of like a regular match instead of all the other like things to think about."

Kuznetsova was given a time warning for taking too long during a changeover in her 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win earlier Monday over former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, but said it didn't bother her.

As for Wozniacki, after twice failing to win her breakthrough major as the No. 1-ranked woman at the Australian Open, she is now expected to drop out of the top 10 after a fourth-round loss that follows back-to-back first-round exits at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Kuznetsova is moving in the other direction on her comeback from a right knee injury that ruled her out of the last U.S. Open, ending a run of contesting 40 consecutive majors. And she's looking forward to taking on Azarenka.

"The time I played in Indian Wells was totally a disaster. I got (beaten) very badly," she said. "But, I mean, she's tough, she's No. 1. I have nothing to lose -- she has all the pressure.

"I know I got the game to give her some problems, and I will just do my best and just try to enjoy it."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.