MELBOURNE - Fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga destroyed American James Blake 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-3) to reach the quarterfinals as the Frenchman's love affair with the Australian Open continued yesterday.
Tsonga, who reached his first tour final here last year, didn't face a break point until the third set and dominated the tie-break to wrap it up in two hours and 23 minutes.
"I think I'm playing better than last year," he said. "I'm stronger maybe in my head, and it helps a lot."
Blake, 29, was furious with the defeat.
"It's a little frustrating. I didn't feel like I served well or returned well, otherwise it was okay," he said. "But those are pretty important bits of the game."
An early break was enough for the first set and Tsonga applied the same strategy in the second, following up three deep backhands with a cute volley on set point for a 2-0 lead.
After a break for Australia Day fireworks, Blake earned his first break points of the match and converted with a penetrating winner that left Tsonga flat-footed.
But he was foiled twice when serving for the set and Tsonga broke for 4-5 with a brilliantly anticipated volley and then an inch-perfect forehand.
Blake, looking increasingly unhappy, was soon behind in an error-strewn tie-break and Tsonga pummelled some big forehands for match point before sealing it with an ace.
"I was a bit stressed so it was difficult to serve just after the fireworks," he said. "But I did the job in the end so I'm happy about that."
Tsonga, 23, was beaten by Serbian world number three Novak Djokovic in last year's final.
Meanwhile earlier yesterday world number one Rafael Nadal breezed through 6-3 6-2 6-4 over Fernando Gonzalez, avenging a heavy loss to the Chilean here in 2007. - Sapa-AFP
Women 2 (seed)-Serena Williams (US) beat 13-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) 3-6 4-2 (Azarenka retired); 8-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) beat 22-Zheng Jie (China) 4-1 (Zheng Jie retired);
4-Elena Dementieva (Russia) beat 18-Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) 6-2 6-2;
Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain) beat 21-Anabel Medina Garrigues (Spain) 6-3 6-2
Men - 14-Fernando Verdasco (Spain) beat 4-Andy Murray (Britain) 2-6 6-1 1-6 6-3 6-4; 1-Rafael Nadal (Spain) beat 13-Fernando Gonzalez (Chile) 6-3 6-2 6-4; 6-Gilles Simon (France) beat 12-Gael Monfils (France) 6-4 2-6 6-1 0-0 (Monfils retired)