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Williams overcomes slow start to make Open fourth round

Written by Belinda

Serena Williams overcame an error-strewn start on Friday to thwart Anastasia Potapova and ensure her bid for history at the Australian Open continued.

The 23-time Grand Slam winner had 31 unforced errors but wore down the Russian 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 in 97 minutes on Rod Laver Arena to set up a fourth-round showdown with seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

“Definitely good to be in the fourth round,” she said.

“I came out of the blocks not like I have been (before). But it’s all about surviving and playing better every round.”

The 10th seed had been in strong form so far in Melbourne as she chases Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam tally, but was out-of-sorts in an error-strewn start to fall down a break.

But Potapova, 19, had a meltdown trying to serve out the first set with five double faults squandering the golden opportunity.

A refocused Williams then lifted her intensity and won a tiebreak before cruising through the second set.

Williams, the seven-time Australian Open champion, will on Sunday play Sabalenka who thrashed American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1, with a place in the quarterfinals at stake.

Naomi Osaka had to deal with a butterfly landing on her nose but was otherwise little bothered as she breezed into the last 16 of the Australian Open and a showdown with last year’s runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

The third seed, champion in Melbourne two years ago, gently carried the insect intruder to safety at the side of the court before closing out an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Tunisian 27th seed Ons Jabeur in one hour and 18 minutes.

Japan’s Osaka, who has dropped just 13 games in her opening three matches, is great friends with Jabeur and said playing against her on John Cain Arena was “really fun”.

“I was really nervous and scared because I didn’t know if she was gonna hit a drop shot on me, so I felt kind of rushed,” Osaka said.

She also thanked the fans for attending on the day it was announced that Melbourne would go into five days’ lockdown from midnight, meaning stands will be empty from Saturday.

“I hope that you guys enjoyed the match and thanks for coming out today.”

Australian Open organisers announced on Friday that players would compete in a biosecure “bubble” after the host city was ordered into a snap five-day lockdown, with spectators banned.

Two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza, who lost in the final to Sofia Kenin a year ago, earlier beat Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1 in just 56 minutes to set up the fourth-round clash with Osaka.


An aggressive Simona Halep revived her stuttering Australian Open campaign Friday with a straight-sets demolition of Veronika Kudermetova in an ominous statement.

The world No 2 served strongly and pierced the lines to overwhelm the 32nd seed 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 18 minutes in the third round.

“It’s always tough to play an opponent for the first time and I thought my serve helped me today … I’ve improved on my serve a lot,” said Halep, who hit 21 winners and four aces.

Big-hitting Kudermetova loomed as a dangerous opponent, but it was Halep who blasted the Russian off the court in a much-needed confidence boost after she was pushed to the brink of elimination by local Alja Tomljanovic in the second round.

When Halep wasn’t hitting sizzling winners, she showcased her famed defensive prowess to rattle a misfiring Kudermetova, who was undone by 38 unforced errors.

Halep inexplicably struggled on serve early in the second set but answered every challenge in her best performance of the tournament.

Having survived a draining encounter with Tomljanovic on Wednesday, the two-time Grand Slam champion looked sharp and strong in a reminder of her credentials.

The Romanian’s seven-year streak in the top 10 is the longest active run among women and eighth all-time on the WTA.

Halep, 29, is seeking a maiden triumph at Melbourne Park having fallen short to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 decider and Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals last year.

She could next face a blockbuster clash with French Open champion Iga Swiatek, who plays France’s Fiona Ferro in the third round.

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