Serena Williams was put under pressure at the Australian Open for the first time in the third round, but the strength of the opposition ratchets up in round four.
Williams swept her third consecutive opponent in Melbourne, taking out 19-year-old Russian Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (5), 6-2. Potapova, ranked 101st, double faulted five times while serving for the first set, allowing Williams back into the match.
“Not off the starting blocks like I would have wanted,” said Williams, who for a third consecutive match wore an outfit inspired by 1988 Olympic sprint champion Florence Griffith Joyner. “I was a little tight.”
Williams, bidding for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, next gets No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. The 22-year-old has a prime chance to break her reputation of performing better outside of Slams than during them.
“Well, she hits very hard,” Williams said. “She has a big, big power game. She’s a big girl. Strong like myself.”
Williams won four of her last six matches against top-10 players since returning from 2018 childbirth, though the last one was 17 months ago.
Sabalenka, who has never played Williams, defeated American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1 for her 18th win in her last 19 matches.
“We’re all here for the wins, and I’m going to do everything,” to be ready for Williams, she said. “It’s a big challenge, and I really want to, how to say, to thrill myself.”
Also Friday, Naomi Osaka and Garbine Muguruza advanced in straight sets to a fourth-round showdown between multiple-time major champions.
Also advancing to the round of 16: No. 19 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who took out Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-4. Vondrousova is past the second round of a Slam for the first time since her stunning run to the 2019 French Open final.
Later Friday, Novak Djokovic takes on the only seeded American, No. 27 Taylor Fritz. Polarizing Australian Nick Kyrgios faces No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem.
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