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Tsonga, Gasquet advance for France

Tsonga of France celebrates after defeating Gil of Portugal in their match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne
Tsonga of France celebrates after defeating Gil of Portugal in their match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne

By Peter Rutherford

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Nicolas Mahut fell by the wayside but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet kept the French fires burning by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open Saturday.

Six of the 15 Frenchmen to start the main draw made it to the third round at Melbourne Park with Tsonga, Gasquet and Mahut joined by Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.

With Gasquet and Tsonga winners over Janko Tipsarevic and Frederico Gil Saturday, France need two more to advance to match the country's record of four in the last 16.

Tsonga took just 91 minutes to win 6-2 6-2 6-2 over Portugal's Gil, who had no answer to the Frenchman's power from the baseline. The world number six is a slow starter but hard to stop when he gets going.

"Every year and every tournament it's a bit of the same story for me," he said. "I play better and better every match.

"I played well and didn't spend a lot of time on court, and it's good for the rest of the tournament."

With all six Frenchmen in the top half of the draw, Tsonga will face Benneteau or Japan's Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.

Gasquet, ranked 17th, had an even more impressive win over world number nine Tipsarevic, dumping the Serb out of the tournament 6-3 6-3 6-1 on Margaret Court Arena.

"I hope we will go farther in the tournament," Gasquet said of the French contingent. "It's starting to be more and more difficult. We try our best to go further in the draw."

Mahut's name will be forever remembered for his record 11 hours, five minutes marathon against John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010, but Novak Djokovic ensured his time on court Saturday was significantly shorter.

The Serbian world number one crushed Mahut 6-0 6-1 6-1 in 74 minutes.

Monfils is struggling with an injury but still has a fighting chance to beat Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin, while Llodra has a mountain to climb to get past Briton Andy Murray, who has put a succession of French challengers to the sword.

The Scot took out Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second round to improve his record to 24 wins out of his last 25 meetings against French opposition, with Monfils providing the sole win.

Also Saturday, Marion Bartoli lost to China's Zheng Jie to leave France without a representative in the women's draw.

(Editing by John O'Brien)