If there was any doubt about Novak Djokovic's status as favourite for the Australian Open title, it disappeared with his imperious slaughter of France's Nicolas Mahut yesterday.
Djokovic made sure Nicolas Mahut won't forget his 30th birthday in a hurry, routing the Frenchman 6-0 6-1 6-1 in just 74 minutes to dismiss the Frenchman, who lost the longest match in Grand Slam history over 11 hours, 5 minutes against John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010.
"I wish him happy birthday and hopefully tonight he can enjoy it," Djokovic said.
Djokovic hit the lines with his forehands, made backhand drop shots and deft lobs among his impressive arsenal. Every time Mahut tried to serve and volley, Djokovic would hit the return at his feet, cutting down the Frenchman's options. The defending champion is aiming to become the fifth man in the Open era to win three consecutive major titles. He will play the winner of last night's late match between Milos Raonic and Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whom Djokovic beat at Melbourne Park for his first Grand Slam title in 2008, also hardly broke sweat in beating Frederico Gil of Portugal 6-2 6-2 6-2.
Djokovic was ruthless against Mahut, whose movement was hampered by a left leg injury.
He hardly made a mistake as he won 11 of the next 12 games and finished with eight unforced errors. However, Djokovic is not the only former Australian Open finalist doing well here.
Judging by how he twirled around the court yesterday, arms lifted overhead and a huge smile on his face, Tsonga has certainly got his Melbourne groove back. The flashy Frenchman unleashed his trademark victory jig after defeating Portugal's Frederico Gil to advance to the fourth round.
Tsonga is now hoping he can keep dancing into the tournament's final weekend: "You know, every year and every tournament, it's a bit the same story for me. I play better and better every match," he said.
Big things have been expected from Tsonga ever since he broke through at the Australian Open in 2008 as a 22-year-old, beating Rafael Nadal in the semifinals before losing to Novak Djokovic in the final.
But while he has established a reputation as one of the game's most entertaining players, major titles haven't come his way. He hasn't even made it back to a Grand Slam final again.
Last year at the Australian Open, Tsonga was upset by Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine in the third round - his worst showing in Melbourne since 2007. Then in April, he made a big change. He parted with his coach, Eric Winogradsky, who had been with him for seven years and helped guide him to five ATP titles and a career-high ranking of No6.
Patrick Mouratoglou, a former coach of Marcos Baghdatis, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Aravane Rezai, said at the time he wasn't certain going solo was a good idea for Tsonga.
"In my experience, it is not possible for anyone to reach the Top 10 without a coach," he said. "All the players have someone, even Roger Federer had Severin Luthi when he was claiming he had no coach."
Since the split, however, Tsonga has not only returned to the top 10 - he's back at No6 again. He has also enjoyed some of the best results of his career.
He reached the semifinals of Wimbledon for the first time, coming back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, and made the finals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London, where he lost to Federer. He's on a seven-match win streak to start 2012, as well, after his victory at Doha two weeks ago.
"You can improve your game by yourself, also," Tsonga said after his win. "I'm here maybe because I had a coach, but now I feel like I have to follow my opinion maybe a bit more."
He also admitted he's been taking tips from some of the game's great entertainers. Last year, while practicing in Las Vegas, he said he talked with Andre Agassi and the eight-time major winner offered some advice. Mansour Bahrami was also sitting among Tsonga's support team at Hisense Arena.
"Yeah, he supports me," a smiling Tsonga said without elaborating. "I think it's enough. But anyway, he [teaches] me some tricks, but not to win."
Tsonga let reporters in on another secret as well. While his post-victory dance routine has been well-viewed on YouTube, not many knew about his singing.
"Sometimes I sing on the court, so you think I'm talking, but I'm just singing," he said.