Serena overpowers Potapova to reach Australian Open fourth round

Serena Williams fights off two set points en route to a 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over Anastasia Potapova.

Serena Williams in action during the Australian Open third round contest on Friday. - GETTY IMAGES

Serena Williams overcame erratic strokes and two set points to beat Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Friday and reach the fourth round at the Australian Open.

SCORE CENTRE

The surprisingly close match entertained a modest crowd in Rod Laver Arena, but government officials announced fans will be banned from the tournament for five days beginning Saturday because of a COVID-19 outbreak at a Melbourne hotel. The Grand Slam tournament had been the first in a year to allow sizeable crowds.

Williams was eliminated in the third round at Melbourne last year, and appeared destined for the same fate until the 19-year-old Potapova became unnerved. Serving at 5-4, the young Russian held two set points but double-faulted five times and was broken.

Potapova squandered another lead in the tiebreaker, committing unforced errors on the final three points. The last was perhaps the best of the match, with Williams playing spectacular defence to extend a 21-shot rally that ended when a weary Potapova misfired on a forehand.

Wild scramble

Another wild scramble two games later swung the match even more in Williams’ direction and had her laughing before the rally ended. She chased down a drop shot at the net, retreated to retrieve a lob, and watched from near the backstop as Potapova smacked an overhead into the net.

Williams won despite losing serve three times and committing 31 unforced errors.

“I definitely feel good to be in the fourth round,” she said. “It’s about surviving and playing better every round.”

Seeded 10th, she’ll next face Aryna Sabalenka, who matched her best Grand Slam showing by advancing to the round of 16 with a win over American Ann Li, 6-3, 6-1.

Williams, 39, is again seeking to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. Williams won her 23rd at the 2017 Australian Open.

In other third-round play, No. 14-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza defeated Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1. No. 19 Marketa Vondrousova beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-4.

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