MELBOURNE, Australia –Serena Williams scrapped her way into the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, working around a misfiring serve and a rash of unforced errors to beat Barbora Strycova as the heat intensified on Monday.
She had a little bit of luck in some big moments, but created it herself by staying in points against the No. 16-ranked Strycova, who made the No. 2-ranked Williams engage in more and longer rallies than anyone so far in the tournament.
Despite the four service breaks (three in the first set), and with the fluky net cord and the off-balance, scrunched-shoulder backhand that bounced flatly and clinched her the first set on her eighth set point, Williams found a way to win 7-5, 6-4.
That keeps Williams on track in her bid for an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title. If she gets there, the 35-year-old American will regain the No. 1 ranking as well.
The match started with four straight service breaks, with only two points going with serve, until Williams held for a 3-2 lead. There were seven service breaks in the first set –with Williams getting the decisive one in the 12th game.
She broke Strycova’s serve early in the second to establish a lead but was broken while serving for the match. She finished off in the next game with another break of her own, her sixth of the match.
“It’s good to know I have a plan B or option 2, I wasn’t serving my greatest today, also she was putting a lot of returns in there,” said Williams, who had a first-serve percentage of 45, and made four double-faults. “It’s always good to have something to improve on.”
The second-seeded Williams advanced to quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the 11th time since 2001 –she’s only ever lost three times here in that round.
Angelique Kerber, who beat Williams in the final here last year and then ended the 22-time Grand Slam winner’s 186-week streak at No. 1 by winning the U.S. Open, was upset in the fourth round six minutes into second week of the tournament in a straight-sets loss to Coco Vandeweghe the previous night.
“I love pressure. I feel like I deal well with pressure,” said Williams, who has won the Australian Open six times. “I love the game. Honestly I have nothing to lose. I’ve won enough. … Everything is a bonus for me right now. It’s kind of a little relaxing.”
The hot-and-cold run of weather in Melbourne continued, with the temperatures hitting 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) when Williams walked onto Rod Laver Arena to get play started on Day 8.
It followed a chaotic middle Sunday that contained two big upsets, with Kerber’s exit following top-ranked and five-time finalist Andy Murray’s fourth-round defeat by No. 50-ranked Mischa Zverev. Roger Federer, returning from six months on the sidelines, rebounded to beat No. 5 Kei Nishikori in five sets and will meet Zverev in the quarterfinals.
Rafael Nadal, the only major winner remaining on the bottom half of the men’s draw, was playing for a quarterfinal spot later Monday against Gael Monfils.