Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka each needed three sets (and Osaka saved match points) to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals.
Williams, now three match wins from a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, overcame poor serving to beat Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
“Even games that I lost, I was so close to winning,” Williams said. “Not all games, but probably most of those games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew that I could. I still hadn’t reached my peak. I was like, OK, Serena, you got this, just keep going.”
It marked the 10th seed Williams’ first match against a top-10 player in 17 months. Sabalenka, the power-playing seventh seed, won 18 of her prior 19 matches going into her first meeting with Williams.
Williams next gets a major champion: No. 2 seed Simona Halep, who also needed three sets to get past 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Later, Novak Djokovic beat Milos Raonic 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to reach the quarters. Djokovic said after Friday’s third round that he tore a muscle in his abdominal area and might withdraw from the tournament he has won a record eight times. Djokovic gets No. 6 Alexander Zverev next.
“If it’s any other tournament than a Grand Slam, I would retire, withdraw from the event, that’s for sure,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t know before I finished my warm-up today, three hours before I entered the court against Milos here whether I’m going to play or not. When it warmed up it was fine. Obviously, during the match today it was kind of on and off. It’s not ideal, but I cannot complain.”
Earlier Sunday, pre-tournament favorite Osaka came back from the brink to beat two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. In the third set, Muguruza had two match points on Osaka’s serve before Osaka won the last four games.
“Today was just a battle. Like if I can just describe it in one word,” Osaka said. “Maybe a year ago — definitely a year ago — I probably wouldn’t have won this match. There are so many things that I was thinking about on the court that just would have blocked me from trying to win the match or trying to problem solve.”
Osaka, a two-time U.S. Open champ and 2019 Australian Open winner on an 18-match win streak, next plays 71st-ranked Hsieh Su-wei.
Hsieh, 35, became the oldest woman to make her first major quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) by beating No. 19 seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 6-2. Hsieh has an unorthodox game that frustrates top players.
“She’s one of those players that, for me, if it was a video game, I would want to select her character just to play as her,” Osaka said. “Because my mind can’t fathom the choices she makes when she’s on the court.”
No. 3 Dominic Thiem became the highest seed in either singles draw to exit. No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov took him out 6-4, 6-4, 6-0, after which the 2020 U.S. Open winner said he had “some little physical issues,” declining to specify.
Dimitrov, who in 2017 reached the Australian Open semifinals and a career-high ranking of No. 3, next gets 114th-ranked Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev.
Karatsev prevailed 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 over 20th-seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in both players’ first five-set match. Karatsev, 27, is the first man to reach the quarterfinals in his Grand Slam main draw debut since German Alex Rădulescu at 1996 Wimbledon.
Monday’s fourth-round matches include No. 1 Ash Barty and No. 2 Rafael Nadal.
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