Serena Williams has fought through to the Australian Open quarter finals, beating Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, on Rod Laver Arena.
The 23-time grand slam champion was forced to dig deep against the number seven seed, but prevailed after two hours, nine minutes.
- Serena Williams needed three sets to beat number seven seed Aryna Sabalenka
- Naomi Osaka was a set and 0-2 down before rallying to win in three sets
- Osaka will play 35-year-old Hsieh Su-Wei in the quarter final
“I am happy to get through that one. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Williams said.
“She was teeing off on every shot.”
Both players have reputations as the biggest hitters in the women’s game, and there was an impression that these women were trying to out do each other from the baseline, exchanging crushing ground strokes accompanied by cacophonous screams that echoed around the empty stands of Rod Laver Arena.
Sabalenka’s lightning first serve — achieving a top speed of 194kph with a first-serve average of 178kph and an all-or-nothing second serve not far behind at 165kph in that first set, compared to 172kph and 142kph for Williams’s first and second serves — was causing Williams some issues, winning her first two service games to love and dropping just three points over the next two.
However, when Williams got a chance to break, she took it, earning two break points in the tenth game of the set, winning the second of those.
In that opening set, Williams hit 12 winners to Sabalenka’s six as both women showed off their immense power to Rod Laver Arena.
Sabalenka hit straight back at the start of the second, breaking Williams and staving off a break point in her next service game to take a 2-0 lead in the second.
The Belarussian then broke again as Williams’s first serve deserted her, getting just four of her first 19 first serves in through her first two games, which allowed Sabalenka to fully unload with her punishing, probing returns.
Williams broke back next game, but was then broken again in a game that lasted over seven minutes and went on to lose the second 6-2 in 46 minutes.
“I felt like I was there but some shots I felt like I was missing. And some shots ‘I can do it’ and barely missed that one,” Williams said.
“The games that I lost super close, one shot here and one shot here, [I thought] ‘Serena, you are so close, you have to keep going’.
“[The second set] could have gone either way. I was like, ‘Come on, Serena. Come on, you can do this. Just try to stay in there’.”
Although the momentum was with Sabalenka, Williams came out firing in the third.
After the first three games went with serve — Williams holding her second game to love — the veteran American broke Sabalenka to get on the front foot.
Sabalenka broke back and then held to love to level things back up at 4-4, but Williams fought back off a dominant hold of her own before breaking to 15 to see out the match.
Williams, whose last grand slam title came at Melbourne Park in 2017, will continue her quest to equal Margaret Court’s record for grand slam singles titles.
Osaka survives scare to win through against Garbiñe Muguruza
Naomi Osaka has survived a massive scare on Rod Laver Arena, coming from a set down to beat last year’s finalist Garbiñe Muguruza 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 to advance to the Australian Open quarter finals.
The three-time grand slam winner survived two match points on her own serve in the third set, before breaking back as Muguruza served for the match.
In a high-quality match that built in intensity throughout, Osaka won the final game to love to avoid the upset and extend her winning run to 18 matches.
“I feel like today I didn’t know what to expect because I have never played her before,” Osaka told Channel 9 after the match.
“I just knew it was going to be tough. I am kind of tired right now.”
Both Osaka, 2019 Australian Open champion, and two-time grand slam winner Muguruza, had breezed through their opening three matches at Melbourne Park, with this contest the first real test of their campaigns.
“I feel like I was a bit intimidated because I knew she was playing really well coming into this match,” Osaka said.
Osaka didn’t appear intimidated, breaking Muguruza in just the second game of the match, but was pegged back immediately by the 27-year-old number 14 seed, who broke again in the ninth game to be the first player to take a set off Osaka in this year’s tournament.
The error-strewn performance of the first set — Osaka made 14 unforced errors to Muguruza’s six in the opener — was replaced with a far more conservative, safety-conscious display in the second.
The three-time grand slam winner was broken again right at the start of the second set but fought back in the fourth game to level things up before breaking again with Muguruza serving to stay in the set.
This was the first women’s match to go the distance on Rod Laver Arena at this year’s Open, and it remained a battle to the very end.
Osaka looked to be in control early in the decider, earning a break point on Muguruza’s second service game of the set.
But it was Osaka who was broken first, saving one break point but surrendering serve with her third double fault of the match.
From then, Osaka looked to be battling her own demons, showing rare bursts of emotion as she remonstrated with herself.
Osaka came close to breaking back in the eighth game of the set, but the second of three aces from Muguruza helped save the break point, and a stunning winner down the line sealed the game to leave her one away from the quarter finals.
A fourth double fault from Osaka handed Muguruza the advantage and a loose shot meant the Spaniard had two match points, which Osaka had to dig deep to save.
That scare appeared to spur Osaka on — she did not make another unforced error all match, breaking back to make it 5-5 as Muguruza attempted to serve out the match.
Osaka will face Taiwan’s 35-year-old veteran Hsieh Su-Wei, who shocked 19th seed Marketa Vondrusova 6-4, 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena.
“She is going to be really tough,” Osaka said of Hsieh. “I feel like whenever I play her, I have to expect everything.
“I played her, like, two years ago here. It is actually fun when I am not really angry.”
Hsieh is ranked 71 in the world and will be playing in her first ever grand slam quarter final in what is her 38th appearance in the main draw of the tournament.