Victoria Azarenka might not like the tag but, on current form, she is shaping as Serena Williams’ biggest challenger at Melbourne Park.
Two-time champion Azarenka continued her near-faultless run at the Australian Open on Thursday, crushing Danka Kovinic 6-1 6-2 in the second round.
The 26-year-old, who won the Open in 2012 and 2013, dished out a double bagel in the opening round.
Having ended Alison Van Uytvanck’s campaign in just 53 minutes, Azarenka accounted for Kovinic in a tick over an hour.
She is in serious form – having also won the Brisbane International earlier this month.
“Irrelevant,” Azarenka quipped, when asked about her being dubbed one of the players to beat in the women’s draw.
“I know I always answer the same way but it’s really how I feel.
“The talk is just opinions. It’s not facts.”
Azarenka is back to full fitness after a frustrating 2015 campaign, during which she failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals at any grand slam.
The Belarusian has dropped three games in the Open so far.
“I really don’t count the games,” Azarenka said courtside.
“I just enjoy myself on the court and try to play every point like it’s my last point.”
Azarenka next faces Naomi Osaka, an 18-year-old on grand-slam debut who ousted 18th seed Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-4 on Thursday.
“I’ll have to study her,” Azarenka said, revealing she knew next to nothing about the Japanese young gun.
“Just heard she has .. a big serve and big shots, yeah.”
Third seed Garbine Muguruza recorded a 6-4 6-2 victory over Kirsten Flipkens in her second-round clash at Melbourne Park.
Former finalist Ana Ivanovic overcame a half-hour stoppage while medics treated a spectator who fell down stairs at Rod Laver Arena to advance to the third round with a 6-3 6-3 win over Latvian qualifier Anastasija Sevastova.
But fellow Serbian and former world No.1 Jelena Jankovic crashed out, the 19th seed going down 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 to little-known German Laura Siegemund.
Former Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki, seeded 30th, was also eliminated in a 6-3 2-6 6-4 loss to Czech Denisa Allertova.
American 15th seed Madison Keys battled back from a set down to beat Yaroslava Shvedova 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-3 in two hours.
Shuai Zhang, who produced the biggest boilover of the women’s draw when she beat Simona Halep, downed Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-3 6-3.