VICTORIA AZARENKA returned to her merciless best with a crushing win over Russian Elena Vesnina to make the Australian Open quarter-finals today, as the Gallic juggernaut rolled on with two Frenchmen assured of making the last eight at Melbourne Park.
The world No 1 Azarenka was the first player in the women's top four seeds to drop a set in her tough third-round match against American Jamie Hampton, and set herself the goal of improving "everything" against the 47th-ranked Vesnina.
The tall Belarusian need not have worried as her opponent offered little resistance in a 6-1 6-1 rout, allowing Azarenka a timely confidence boost ahead of her next match against twice grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"It's getting there... with every match you start building up for the top battles starting now," said Azarenka, who only needed 57 minutes to beat the 47th-ranked Vesnina. "It's really exciting to be again so far in the tournament. "
The march of the French has seen tricolour flags waving at Melbourne Park, where four of the country's men made the last 16 for the first time since 1998.
Jeremy Chardy ensured more cheer for France, as he continued his brilliant run at Melbourne Park with a 5-7 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over 21st seed Andreas Seppi of Italy at Hisense Arena.
"Normally, I always play bad in Australia," a thrilled Chardy, who stunned sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro in the previous round, said courtside.
"It's the first time I've played good in Melbourne, so I am happy."
And with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga winning his all-French battle with compatriot Richard Gasquet at Rod Laver Arena in a 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-2 triumph, France will equal their record of two players in the men's quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, last achieved in 2009.
Kuznetosova, the 2004 US Open champion and winner at Roland Garros in 2009, turned back the clock with an absorbing 6-2 2-6 7-5 victory over 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki.
Former WTA cover-girl Wozniacki struggled as world No 1 without a grand slam and has continued to struggle without the top ranking. The loss will send the Dane spinning out of the top 10 when the new rankings come out.
The 75th-ranked Kuznetsova is on the rise, however, and was relishing the prospect of her third quarter-final at Melbourne Park after spending much of last year on crutches with a knee injury.
The 27-year-old Russian has a tattoo on her right bicep, reading "Pain doesn't kill me, I kill the pain," in English.
"I have many tattoos. I don't remember when I got this one," she told reporters. "But a tattoo is something (of the) history of your life, and I believe in it."
Speaking about her upcoming contest with Azarenka, she added: "The time I played in Indian Wells was totally disaster. I got (beaten) very badly.
"But, I mean, she's tough; she's No. 1; I have nothing to lose; she has all the pressure.
"I know I got the game to give her some problems, and I will just do my best and just try to enjoy it."