MELBOURNE - A dominant Rafael Nadal overwhelmed Australia’s Matthew Ebden in straight sets to reach the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday and stay on track for an 18th Grand Slam title. The Spaniard, who cut short his 2018 season to have surgery on a foot injury, raced through the tie in just 116 minutes.

The 32-year-old’s newly remodelled serve only briefly came under pressure from Ebden, 31, who enjoyed vociferous home support on Rod Laver Arena before losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. The Australian forced three break points at 3-2 in the first set, but could convert none before the second seed reeled off four games in a row to close it out in 35 minutes. It was one-way traffic from then on as Nadal, sporting a trademark sleeveless shirt, cruised into the last 32. “I played a solid match, I was happy with the way I served. I did a few things very well,” said Nadal, who next plays Australian 27th seed Alex de Minaur. “It is an honour to play here. Was a great atmosphere.”

Nadal pulled out of his Brisbane warm-up event two weeks ago with a thigh strain but showed no sign of the injury woes that saw him limp out of both the Australian Open and US Open last year. “I don’t know if it’s that good,” said Nadal modestly after a dominant performance. “I just came back from injury so it is not easy to evaluate yet.” He is bidding to become the first man in the Open era, and only third in history along with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, to win each Grand Slam on two or more occasions.

Meanwhile, Past champions Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova have added some punch to the Australian Open third round after sweeping past their round-two opponents. Reigning champion Wozniacki only lost four games to Sweden’s Johanna Larsson at Melbourne Park on Wednesday before 2016 champion Kerber ousted Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2 6-3.

Sharapova, ranked 30, barely raised a sweat in her 6-2 6-1 win over another Swede Rebecca Peterson in the last match of the night on Margaret Court Arena. Kerber, the world No.2 and reigning Wimbledon champion, next takes on Australian surprise packet Kimberly Birrell, a 6-4 4-6 6-1 winner over Croatian No.29 seed Donna Vekic.

Kerber is expecting a tough time against the 20-year-old Queenslander, whose ranking of No.240 is set to receive a mighty boost. “I saw a bit of her match and she played really well,” Kerber said. “I will have to play great tennis as she’s playing at home.”

Wozniacki, the world No.3, needed just 66 minutes to wrap up the 6-1 6-3 win over Larsson on Margaret Court Arena. She did the damage on her backhand, slamming 11 of her 19 winners. “I was trying to stay consistent and as aggressive as I could and I think I served well too,” the Dane said. “If I play my best I’m hard to beat. If they do (beat me) then, just well done.”

American fifth seed Sloane Stephens ended the campaign of her former doubles partner and long-time friend Timea Babos. Stephens triumphed 6-3 6-1 over the Hungarian although the second-round victory was more hard-fought than suggested by the scoreline. Stephens enjoyed her grand slam breakthrough at the 2013 Australian Open, when she beat Serena Williams to advance to the semi-finals as a 19-year-old.

But it has been a case of slim pickings in recent times, with the victory over Babos only her third at Melbourne Park in the past five years. “I thought it was a good match and obviously it’s not easy playing someone who serves like that,” said the 2017 US Open champion. “I am feeling relaxed considering I hadn’t won a match here in I don’t know how long.” Stephens’ third-round opponent will be Croatian No.31 seed Petra Martic, who ousted Czech Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 7-5.

French No.19 seed Caroline Garcia eased past Australian wildcard Zoe Hives 6-3 6-3. Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova upset No.9 seed Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands 3-6 6-3 6-3. Belarus had two winners; Aliaksandra Sasnovich overcame 20th seed Anett Kontaveit from Estonia while 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka downed Briton Katie Boulter.