It was left to 48-year-old Martina Navratilova to inject a much needed hint of controversy on an otherwise predictable fifth day of the Australian Open.
None of the eight women’s third round matches went into a third set and only one set even went as far as a tie-break as all of the top names cruised into the last 16.
Only two of the top 16 seeds – Vera Zvonareva and Ai Sugiyama – have so far been knocked out of the centenary championships, while 25th seed Lisa Raymond has dropped just two games in two rounds.
Navratilova has not played in the singles here since 1989 but had no qualms about expressing some typically forthright views on the state of the women’s game, most notably blaming the injuries suffered by Justine Henin-Hardenne on her fitness trainer.
Henin-Hardenne was unable to defend her Australian Open title due to a knee injury and missed a large part of last season with glandular fever.
And Navratilova feels the 22-year-old Belgian has been pushed too hard by trainer Pat Etcheberry, who has also worked with the likes of Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier.
Asked to compare the demands of the tour now to 20 years ago, Navratilova said: “The stress on the top players is very similar. It’s not that it’s any worse now, but the matches are more difficult so you have to really be careful with your schedule.
“And when I saw Justine training, I thought, ’My God, that woman works very, very hard,’ and I was wondering how long she can keep it up. And there’s your answer.
“The trainer that she works with, he’s done that to other players. He works them too hard. He’s done it before.
“She’s in her prime physically. Obviously she overdid it a little bit, and she knows that, and she’ll probably pull back the reins a little bit. The trainer should have known better because he’s been there before.
“For her, it was the first time, and she worked her butt off, worked a little too much.”
Many of the top players on the women’s tour have been badly affected by injury; Serena Williams (knee), Venus Williams (stomach), Capriati (back), Kim Clijsters (wrist) and Lindsay Davenport (knee) among the most high-profile casualties.
And Navratilova, playing in the doubles with Daniela Hantuchova in Melbourne, blames the near year-round tennis calendar for the spate of problems.
Asked who will win the title, the 48-year-old added: “I think it’s going to be a survival of the fittest. Literally, physically who can withhold the rigours of the tournament and the tour.
“Some people are starting in the minus already. They’re not 100% even recovered from last year. It’s like the walking wounded. Everybody’s got something.
“I’ve been talking about it for about 10 years now. The season is too long. We need to change it. We need to have a longer off-season so players can recover and recharge their batteries.
“We don’t have that right now. So it’s a shame because then we lose the top players because they play the most matches. It’s just too hard to handle physically and emotionally as well.”
Amelie Mauresmo was the first woman to book her place in the fourth round on Friday, the second seed defeating Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic 6-2 7-5.
Mauresmo surprisingly lost the opening set of her previous match against Dinara Safina – sister of men’s fourth seed Marat Safin – but was always in control against the world number 82.
“I started much better this time and was focused on the start of the match,” said Mauresmo, who has failed to reach a grand slam final since her defeat to Martina Hingis here in 1999.
“I didn’t want anything like the second round to happen today. I played a solid match, pretty consistent and went a little more to the net which I should do. I’m pretty satisfied.”
Mauresmo will next face Evgenia Linetskaya who defeated 21st seed Amy Frazier 6-3 6-4 while another Russian, Vera Douchevina, also advanced to the fourth round with a 7-5 6-4 win over Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany.
Fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, battling to put the controversy over her reported positive drug test behind her, defeated Mariana Diaz-Oliva from Argentina 6-3 7-6 and now faces Douchevina in all-Russian clash.
Serena Williams also enjoyed a routine victory over wild card Sania Mirza of India. The seventh seed smashed 12 aces, the last on match point, to win 6-1 6-4 in under an hour on the Vodafone Arena.
The former world number one will now face Russian Nadia Petrova for a place in the quarter-finals, the 11th seed beating Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria 6-4 6-4.
In the night match on Rod Laver Arena, Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova made it five Russians in the fourth round – with the possibility of four more to come - with a 6-0 6-2 win over China’s Li Na.