Serena Williams overcame a spirited challenge from Slovakia's Tamara Zidansek to move into the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday night.
Williams took down Zidansek 6-2 6-3- a scoreline that suggests a comfortable night for the American, but she had to fight hard, especially midway through the second set when Zidansek offered some stern resistance.
Serena has now reached the third round of the Australian Open in 18 consecutive appearances. The only time she failed to get this far in Melbourne was in her debut appearance in 1998, when she was beaten by elder sister, Venus in the second round.
“It was a good match for me, she was a real good fighter and she didn’t just let me win,” Williams said in her post-match on-court interview.
“Everyone plays me like that though, so it’s nothing new. I was up 40-0 on both of her serves, so I was frustrated. I hit many errors and had to battle through my own internal problems”.
“I knew I had to play better, I couldn’t keep making unforced errors like that. I knew I had to step up, or it was going to be a really long evening for me.”
Williams started well against Zidansek, breaking twice to take a 4-1 lead. The seven-time Australian Open champion missed a set point at 5-1, but she served out the set in the next game, sealing the opener after 32 minutes.
Zidansek came out fighting in the second set, sticking with Serena in the opening phase of the set. The 22-year-old battled back from 0-40 to hold for 2-1, while she repeated the trick a couple of games later to hold for 3-2. Having saved seven break points across those two service games, the Slovak had her own chances in the sixth game, forcing three break points against the Williams serve.
For the first time in the match, Serena was properly challenged; and she raised her game and her intensity accordingly. Williams fended off all three break points- the first two with service winners, and the third with a superb backhand winner- and went on to hold with a forehand winner.
Jolted into action by that narrow escape, the American cut out the unforced errors that had littered the first half of the set, and put her foot on the ground. The 23-time major winner dominated the rest of the match, winning 12 of the final 15 points to secure the 78-minute victory.
“I just started making way too many errors,” said Williams of her second-set struggles. “I mean, more errors than I have been making in my good matches in the past”.
“I just wasn’t doing the right technique, catching the ball not in my strike zone. It was just all off so I had to adjust… So just having to say, OK, not every match is going to be perfect, how to work through that. I hadn’t done that since September. It was just kind of working through that and getting through that.”
Williams has now won her last seven matches, having put together five wins in her title-run in Auckland, where she won her first title as a mother, and two more victories in Melbourne. The legendary American began her Australian Open campaign with a straight sets victory over Anastasia Potapova, before moving past Zidansek in the second round on Wednesday. She will next take on Chinese world No. 29, Qiang Wang in the third round on Friday.
The 38-year-old is bidding for her first Grand Slam title since the 2017 Australian Open, and her 24th major overall, which would put her level with Margaret Court on top of the all-time list.