Australian Open darling Ana Ivanovic has become the adopted local hope after winning the battle of the seeded Serbs.
The former finalist, long a favourite in Melbourne, will pick up the mantle dropped by Samantha Stosur after the ninth seed’s second-round loss.
Stronger and fitter than in past years, Ivanovic continued her dominance over compatriot Jelena Jankovic, extending her record to 8-3 with a 7-5 6-3 victory.
The win pits her against Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round.
Ivanovic has relatives who live in the beachside suburb of Mentone and has long had a loyal following at Melbourne Park.
She did not hesitate when asked if she could act as a substitute with no local women’s players in the draw.
‘‘Thank you for [the] offer, I’d be happy,’’ Ivanovic said.
‘‘I think people here are so lovely so I love coming here. It’s my favorite grand slam.’’
Jankovic and Ivanovic are both former world No 1 players and have had a long but friendly rivalry, which the latter has dominated since her 2008 French Open victory.
Runner-up to Maria Sharapova at Melbourne Park in 2008, Ivanovic admits she feels she has both a mental edge over Jankovic and a game style which gives her an advantage.
‘‘There is no secret. Today’s game, it’s a lot mental,’’ Ivanovic said. ‘‘With some players you feel better, with others you don’t.
‘‘I think that also shows a little, but I think it’s also the style of the game that really suits me when I can be patient and take my time.’’
Ivanovic said she had prepared intensely ahead of the Australian championships.
‘‘I’m still working on my upper body strength. I think in the off season I really did improve a lot in my fitness,’’ she said.
‘‘I think my strokes are heavier, as well, and that’s something I worked on a lot.’’
Radwanska has confounded even herself with her sizzling start to the year. And while she remains puzzled that she is unbeaten so far in 2013, she knows one thing – she is only going to improve.
The world No 4 sailed into the last 16 with a 6-3 6-1 win over Briton Heather Watson.
But when asked why she had been untouchable, she has no answers.
‘‘That’s a good question, I don’t know,’’ Radwanska said after yesterday’s win.
Former finalist Li Na defeated Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-4 6-1 and will meet German Julia Goerges for a quarter-final spot.
Goerges, Stosur’s doubles partner, did what the Australian couldn’t – beat China’s Jie Zheng.
Zheng, who upset Stosur, went down to Goerges 6-3 1-6 7-5.
German fifth seed Angelique Kerber also reached the fourth round, beating American Madison Keys 6-2 7-5 and will face 19th seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova. AAP