Serena, Sharapova, Azarenka ease into Rome quarters

Red-hot Serena Williams, two-time reigning champion Maria Sharapova and Belarusian star Victoria Azarenka were a trio of easy third-round winners Thursday at the $2.37 million Italian Open, a clay- court French Open tune-up.

The world No. 1 American star Williams dismantled helpless 14th-seeded Slovak Dominika Cibulkova 6-0, 6-1 in only 66 minutes.

The 2002 Rome titlist Williams, fresh off her clay-court title in Madrid last week, has now won a career-best-tying 21 straight matches and will meet Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in Friday's quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, the second-seeded former No. 1 Sharapova lambasted 16th-seeded American Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 and the third-seeded Australian Open champion and former top-ranked Azarenka was having her way with Ayumi Morita 6-1, 2-0 when the Japanese player retired on Day 4 at Foro Italico. Sharapova was last week's Madrid runner-up to the mighty Williams.

The reigning French Open champion Sharapova is seeking a third straight Italian Open championship, having beaten Li Na in last year's finale here.

Sharapova's quarterfinal opponent will be Italian crowd favorite Sara Errani, who lost to the tall Russian in last year's French Open finale, while Azarenka will take on Aussie slugger Samantha Stosur.

Former world No. 1, two-time titlist and former Rome runner-up Jelena Jankovic ousted the fifth-seeded Aussie Open runner-up and 2012 Rome finalist Li in 7-6 (7-2), 7-5 fashion on Thursday, while a seventh-seeded Errani handled 12th- seeded Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 2-0, retired, and the ninth-seeded former U.S. Open champion and former French Open runner-up Stosur outlasted eighth- seeded former Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova 7-5, 2-6, 6-1. Stosur was the 2011 Italian Open runner-up to Sharapova.

Other third-round play saw Romanian Simona Halep upend 13th-seeded Italian favorite Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-2 and the aforementioned Suarez Navarro whip lucky loser and fellow countrywoman Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-2, 6-3.

Halep's next outing will come against the Serbian veteran Jankovic.