Serena Williams advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open with a difficult straight set victory over No.7 seed Aryna Sabalenka and now faces a potentially brutal path to her 24th major title, a record tied.
Williams, 39, may have to beat World No.1, 2 and 3 to match Australia’s Margaret Court at the top of the record books.
Serena, the No.10 seed, will face No.2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals, could meet No.3 Naomi Osaka in the semifinals and could then be rewarded by World No.1 Ash Barty in the final.
Williams initially had to deal with a spirited performance from Sabalenka which she sent 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in their first meeting in 2 hours and 9 minutes, denying Sabalenka the first quarter-final Grand Slam of his career.
“It was obviously very important because I didn’t want to be out of the tournament, so it felt good to grab that at the end and get through it,” Williams said.
Williams, who has won eight of his 23 Down Under majors, advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the 13th time. She moved well while hitting 30 winners, including nine aces, to give Sabalenka just her second loss in her last 20 games.
“I just felt like even the games I lost, I was so close to winning,” said Williams. “Not every game, but probably most of these games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew I could. I still wasn’t in my prime. I was like, ‘ Alright, Serena, you have this, just keep doing it. ‘”
Serena said she only really hears the voice of her older sister Venus, who lost in the second round after sustaining an ankle injury.
“She really is one of the only voices I hear,” Serena said. “I don’t know if I’m logging out and it’s the only one I’m hearing. I know when I hear his voice it makes me calm and confident. Yeah, I think there’s something about that that makes me feel really good.
Williams will now face two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep, who beat reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek despite dropping the first set, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Serena leads Halep 9-2, 3-1 in majors, but was crushed when they last met in the Wimbledon 2019 final, 6-2, 6-2. Serena’s last victory over Halep came in the fourth round of the 2019 Australian Open.
“She’s the best,” Halep said. “I’ll do my best because you can only beat Serena if you play your best.”
If Serena manages to get past Halep, she could meet Osaka, the three-time Grand Slam champion who lost 5-3 in the third set and survived two match points before edging 14th Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-4, 7 -5. She will then face Taiwanese Hsieh Su-wei.
“I think today was just a battle if I can describe it in one word. For me, I feel very happy for the way I got through the game,” Osaka said. “I think maybe a year ago… I probably wouldn’t have won this game. There are so many things I was thinking about on the pitch that would have just kept me from trying to win the game or to try to pose problems – solve. “
Williams has been stranded in 23 majors since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with daughter Olympia. She’s 0-4 in the Grand Slam final since then and also lost in the US Open semifinals last fall.
She now has another shot at winning that elusive 24th title, but may have to beat Halep and Osaka before a possible final date with world number one Barty, who will meet American Shelby Rogers in the fourth round.
“I think it’s still a great depth,” Williams said of the pitch. “I think a lot of players could really win the title from the start of the draw. I think there are so many players who can come out and have won Grand Slam tournaments and can continue to win.
“It’s good. It’s good to see. It’s good to see that I’m in this mix too.”