Australian Open: Serena, Konta set up quarterfinal clash

It was not pretty but Serena Williams overcame the challenge of Barbora Strycova to win through to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

SerenaWilliams-cropped

World number two Serena Williams.

PLISKOVA BEATS 'DASHA' TO DASH AUSSIE HOPES

Karolina Pliskova dashed home hopes when she thrashed Daria Gavrilova to move into an Australian Open quarterfinal against comeback queen Mirjana Lucic-Baroni on Monday.

The fifth-seeded Czech shut out a partisan crowd on Rod Laver Arena to easily beat Australia's Gavrilova, nicknamed 'Dasha', 6-3, 6-3 and reach the last eight for the first time.

It sets her up for a showdown against Lucic-Baroni, the feel-good story of the tournament who is into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since Wimbledon in 1999.

LUCIC-BARONI ENDS 18-YEAR WAIT

"Tough cookie" Mirjana Lucic-Baroni wound back the clock Monday to make her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 18 years, extending a stunning comeback by the former child prodigy.

The unseeded Croat last got this far at a major tournament at Wimbledon in 1999, where she lost to Steffi Graf, before personal problems and injuries derailed her career.

She now gets another crack at the last four after sweeping past American qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 at the Australian Open, with either Karolina Pliskova or Daria Gavrilova up next.

KONTA SETS UP SERENA CLASH

Johanna Konta blasted into her second Australian Open quarterfinal in as many years Monday, setting up a glamour clash with Serena Williams.

The in-form British ninth seed, on a nine-game winning streak, crushed Russian 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4 in searing heat on Margaret Court Arena.

It sets up an intriguing quarter-final with second seed Williams, who battled through a testing match against Czech 16th seed Barbora Strycova 7-5, 6-4.

"I came out playing at a high level then she was able to pull herself back into it, which made it really difficult. I just tried to trust in myself," she said, adding that meeting Williams would be a dream come true.

"It will be an incredible honour and I can't wait."

This time last year Konta, 25, was a largely unknown entity, but her run to the last four in 2016 put her on the map and she followed it up with a stellar season that saw her named the WTA's most improved player.

She has carried that form into 2017, winning the build-up Sydney International and she is yet to drop a set in Melbourne, emerging as a genuine title contender.

The pair had met three times before with Konta winning all of them, including at the same stage of the Australian Open last year, and Makarova never looked like getting revenge.

A former Melbourne semifinalist, in 2015, the Russian upset sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova to set up the Konta meeting but the Australian-born Briton is in ominous touch, looking solid and focused.

She came out of the blocks firing, snatching a break to go 2-0 in front and another for 5-1 as she whacked 11 winners, with just four unforced errors, to take the set in just 24 blistering minutes.

Konta kept Makarova on the move early in the second set, but despite being belted in the first game the Russian came back strongly as the Briton struggled to counter some pinpoint forehands from the towering left-hander.

But Konta's never-say-die attitude again came to the fore and she reeled off five games in a row, and then nervelessly fended off three break points when serving for the match before sealing victory.

SERENA MOVE TO QUARTERS

It was not pretty but Serena Williams overcame the challenge of Barbora Strycova to win through to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

In a last-16 match highlighted by inconsistency on serve, second seed Williams battled to a 7-5 6-4 victory on Monday.

Holding serve was at a premium in a tight opening set but Williams finished strongly in hot conditions as she took another step towards a 23rd grand-slam title.

Despite tallying 46 unforced errors compared to just 14 from Strycova, Williams will face either Johanna Konta or Ekaterina Makarova in the quarters.

After world number one and defending champion Angelique Kerber crashed out on Sunday, all eyes were on Williams at Melbourne Park.

But the six-time Australian Open champion did not convince during a bizarre first hour of tennis, with no real pattern as both players struggled to hold serve.

It was not until the fifth game that a player held serve, with Williams the first to do so and Strycova followed suit before the latter broke for a 4-3 lead, only for another break of serve to see the set levelled.

Williams earned four set points on Strycova's serve but the Czech fended off all four to hold at 5-5.

Strycova dug herself out of another hole at 0-40 in the 12th game, saving seven in total, but she could not deny Williams, who claimed the opening set at the eighth time of asking.

Williams flexed her muscles from then on, breaking serve in the fourth game after Strycova volleyed into the net as she took command of the second set.

It was relatively smooth sailing from there, despite being broken as she attempted to serve for the match, as Williams progressed to her a ninth consecutive quarterfinal at a major.

  STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

Williams [2] Strycova 7-5 6-4

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 28/46
Strycova – 9/14

ACES
Williams – 4
Strycova – 1

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 6/14
Strycova – 4/6

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Williams – 45
Strycova – 65

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Williams – 63/45
Strycova – 54/41

TOTAL POINTS
Williams – 71
Strycova – 66