AFP - Novak Djokovic, more at ease with his new racquet, swept aside Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu at the Sydney International on Wednesday to get his Australian Open title defence back on track.
The Serbian world number three sought a wild card into the Sydney tournament after he crashed out underdone in the opening round of last week's Brisbane International to Latvian Ernests Gulbis.
Armed with a few more days' practice with his new racquet, the 21-year-old Serb breezed past the 29th-ranked Mathieu in 55 minutes and looked a contented man afterwards.
"I didn't have a lot of practice before my match in Brisbane and didn't get used to the conditions, jet lag and a lot of things involved," Djokovic said.
"Here, it's a different story, I'm so very happy to get a couple matches under my belt here. Hopefully, I can be ready for the most important event here in Australia."
Elsewhere, Richard Gasquet won the all-French match to knock out second seed Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-4 and will play French qualifier Jeremy Chardy in Thursday's quarter-final after Chardy ousted Russian fifth seed Igor Andreev, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Djokovic, who plays Croatian Mario Ancic in the quarters, returns to Melbourne as defending Australian Open champion, having beaten Roger Federer in the semis and claimed his first grand slam title against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2008 final.
"I'm aware of the pressure and expectations that are on me as the defending champion," he said.
"But, look, on the brighter side, I will have big challenge in front of me. I will have to get used to that if I want to stay in the top of the men's tennis.
"Hopefully, I'm going to be in this situation a couple of times as a defending champion."
Tsonga had two injury time-outs to have physio treatment on a lower back complaint during his 6-4, 6-1 win over Italian Simone Bolelli.
The French world number seven will have a quarter-final against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, who ousted Australian Chris Guccione, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3.
"There's a little bit of pain and it's a little bit stiff and I will see for tomorrow," Tsonga said.
He said he had no immediate thoughts of withdrawing from the Sydney tournament ahead of next week's Open.
"No. Not for the moment. It's all right. It's a little bit stiff (but) I have to play with it, so that's it."
Four-time champion Lleyton Hewitt recovered from an early setback before romping to a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic.
After dropping his opening service game with a double-fault, the Australian rebounded to win 13 of the last 19 games to bury Tipsarevic and book a showdown with Argentina's David Nalbandian.
Nalbandian easily put paid to Frenchman Michael Llodra, 6-1, 6-3 in 57 minutes.
"It's going to be a tough one before his own crowd," Nalbandian said. "Lleyton is a great player, former No.1. He wins a lot of titles."
For his part, Hewitt, fighting his way back after hip injury five months ago, is looking at testing himself against Nalbandian to gauge his own form.
"It's always a tough matchup," Hewitt said. "Nalbandian plays extremely well some days and he has average loses out of blue in others.
"He's a tough player to get a read on, but when he's at his best he's definitely in the top 10 players."