Serena Williams labelled Victoria's five-day lockdown "rough" as the Australian Open prepares to go behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Fans will not be allowed to attend Melbourne Park - where crowds have been capped at 30,000 per day - from 11:59pm (local time) on Friday until Wednesday after the Victorian government announced a new state-wide lockdown to control an outbreak of the UK COVID-19 strain.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement as Williams booked her spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where the 23-time grand slam champion overcame Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

"I didn't know at all until the match was over. I think it's good that I didn't know," seven-time Australian Open champion Williams told reporters when asked about the lockdown.

"It's rough. It's going to be a rough few days for I think everyone. But we'll hopefully get through it."

American superstar Williams added: "It's not ideal. It's been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It's been really cool.

"But, you know what, at the end of the day we have to do what's best. Hopefully it will be all right."

Williams - stuck on 23 majors since winning the 2017 Australian Open in pursuit of Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 - was pushed to the limit by Russian teenager Potapova but prevailed on Rod Laver Arena.

The 39-year-old Williams - who has played and won more matches than any other woman in the tournament's history - celebrated her 90th Australian Open victory in her 101st contest.

"It was good to get through that match," said former world number one Williams as seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka awaits in the last 16. "The first set was extremely tight. I was a little tight, but it worked out. Was able to play a little more free in the second set."

Serena Williams remains on track to claim a record-equalling 24th grand slam title after overcoming Anastasia Potapova in a hard-fought battle en route to the Australian Open last 16. 

Williams - stuck on 23 majors since winning the 2017 Australian Open in pursuit of Margaret Court's all-time record - was pushed to the limit by Russian teenager Potapova but prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 in Melbourne on Friday.

Next up for seven-time Australian Open winner Williams is seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Williams - who has played and won more matches than any other woman in the tournament's history - had only lost four times at a slam to a player ranked outside the top 50 and twice to players outside the top 100.

But she was challenged by Potapova in an error-riddled and difficult opening set on Rod Laver Arena, where the unheralded Russian took the match to her superstar opponent.

Williams hit 22 unforced errors to just 12 winners, faced 11 break points as she was broken twice, and saved a pair of set points en route to a tense tie-break.

Maintaining her challenge, Potapova led 4-2 and 5-3 in the tie-break, but Williams was up to the task - closing out the set in 61 minutes.

Potapova, who only broke the American's serve on one occasion in last year's opening-round loss at Melbourne Park, was not deflated following the tie-break and broke Williams in the first game of the second set.

But like the first set, Potapova was unable to hold serve and Williams took full advantage - breaking twice to secure a 16th fourth-round berth in Melbourne.

 

Data Slam: Williams rolls on in Melbourne
In her 101st Australian Open match, Williams secured her 90th career victory in Melbourne. The 39-year-old also improved her overall slam record to 360-51 - Martina Navratilova (306-49) is the only other player to pass 300 wins in the Open Era.
 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 19/31
Potapova – 18/28

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 9/4
Potapova – 2/8

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 5/8
Potapova – 3/12

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka sizzled in the scorching Melbourne heat on day three of the Australian Open. 

Williams, aiming once more for a record-equalling 24th singles grand slam, made serene progress from round two on what was the hottest day of the tournament so far. 

It was a similar story for Osaka, who is aiming to become a two-time champion at Melbourne Park, but Simona Halep had to dig deep while Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova were early casualties on Wednesday.


PLAIN SAILING FOR SERENA AND OSAKA

Williams' perfect start to the season extended to 5-0 as she swatted aside Nina Stojanovic 6-3 6-0 to set up a round-three meeting with Anastasia Potapova – the same opponent she overcame in Melbourne in the first round a year ago. 

The seven-time Australian Open champion is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the Russian. 

"It's always a fun, interesting match [against Potapova]. I'm gonna go home, get ready and just do the best," she said.  

"We're all out here to have fun and I'm happy to be out here, and just to be playing in front of crowd again is really cool. So every day is just fun." 

Osaka, the current US Open champion and the winner in Melbourne two years ago, hammered former world number four Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena in the evening session. 

The Japanese star is set to face her friend Ons Jabeur for the first time in an official match in round three. 

"She's really funny," Osaka said of her next opponent. "I don't know if you guys watch any of her interviews. I think she is really funny and nice.  

"I think the match I am going to play against her will be really difficult, but I'm looking forward to it." 


HALEP SURVIVES TOMLJANOVIC TEST

In contrast to Williams and Osaka's comfortable wins, second seed Halep was taken to the brink by home favourite Ajla Tomljanovic, who won the first set and was serving for the match in the third. 

However, 2018 finalist Halep broke back when trailing 5-4 in the decider and battled through with a 4-6 6-4 7-5 victory in a match that saw a combined 94 unforced errors (57 for Tomljanovic, 37 for Halep). 

"I was expecting that she would play very hard and very strong. I expected it to be a difficult match, but it was more than I thought. But I'm really happy that I can smile now," Halep said.  

"I was not that positive when I was talking to myself. I didn't talk about the score, I was just blaming myself, that I'm not strong enough to win against her. But in the end mentally I was maybe a bit stronger than her, and I didn't want to give up." 

Last year's losing finalist Garbine Muguruza (14) was too good for Ludmilla Samsonova in a 6-3 6-1 win, while French Open champion Iga Swiatek (15) dispatched Camila Giorgi 6-2 6-4. 

Aryna Sabalenka (7), Marketa Vondrousova (19) and Veronika Kudermetova (32) all made it through, but fellow seed Elena Rybakina (17) was beaten in straight sets by Fiona Ferro.


EARLY EXITS FOR ANDREESCU AND KVITOVA

Andreescu became the latest scalp for veteran Hsieh Su-Wei, who earned a commanding 6-3 6-2 victory and is now 4-3 against top-10 players in the slams since 2017. 

Eighth seed Andreescu won the US Open in 2019 but missed the entirety of last year with a knee injury, while her preparation here was disrupted by spending 14 days in quarantine after her coach tested positive for coronavirus. 

"After my first round, I thought I would feel more exhausted, but I felt amazing. Also, today the weather was a bit tricky. Being in the heart of quarantine I could have had those extra two weeks of like being in the heat and getting used to sweating and all of that," she said. 

Next up for Hsieh is Sara Errani, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1 6-0. The veteran American rolled her ankle towards the end of the first set and, despite needing two medical timeouts, valiantly saw out the match. 

Kvitova was a runner-up to Osaka in 2019 and appeared on course to recovery after dominating the second set against Sorana Cirstea. 

But amid sweltering conditions, the Czech ninth seed went on to lose the decider. 

"It was quite a rollercoaster, for sure," she said. "Unfortunately I couldn't take the chances to win the first set.  

"I think that was really the key of the match. She really had a great day today; she played a good game. I didn't really bring the best tennis today. It's really hurting."

Serena Williams is embracing the absence of line judges at this year's Australian Open as the record-chasing American superstar dubbed herself a "futurist, like Iron Man" after reaching the third round. 

The Australian Open is taking place without linespeople as a response to coronavirus restrictions at Melbourne Park, where "Hawk-Eye Live" technology is being used on every court. 

It is the first grand slam to replace all line judges with technology as the tournament seeks to limit the number of people on court amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

After easing past Nina Stojanovic 6-3 6-0 on Wednesday, 23-time grand slam champion and seven-time Australian Open winner Williams welcomed the use of technology.

"I like it," Williams, who is looking to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 slams, told reporters when asked about the technology post-match. "I didn't like it in Cincinnati because they had that in Cincinnati and I was, it was different. It was weird. 

"I like it now because it takes away a lot of the human error, which clearly I definitely don't need. I should be the biggest fan of that. 

"But I feel like sometimes I definitely still want to see that ball, but I'm like, okay, even if I see it, the computer's going to show me what the computer just said. So that's kind of how I think about it. 

"I'm a futurist, like Iron Man, so I definitely love technology and it's something that I invest in and so, yeah, I really think is right up my alley."

Williams owns a 359-51 grand slam record in her illustrious career – the only other player to pass 300 victories in the Open Era is Martina Navratilova (306-49).

The 39-year-old Williams is bidding to win her 11th major crown since turning 30.

Only Court (three), Navratilova (three), Chris Evert (two), Billie Jean King (two), Ann Jones (one), Angelique Kerber (one), Li Na (one), Flavia Pennetta (one) and Virginia Wade (one) have won grand slam silverware in their 30s.

Serena Williams booked her spot in the Australian Open third round with a straight-sets win over Nina Stojanovic on Wednesday.

Williams again looked in fine form on her way to a 6-3 6-0 victory over Stojanovic in warm conditions on Rod Laver Arena.

The American star is bidding to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 grand slam singles titles and is on track after her win in one hour, nine minutes.

As her serve gradually improved, Williams – who is dealing with a right shoulder injury – was in control for the most part to set up a third-round clash against Anastasia Potapova.

Stojanovic held her own early, but Williams broke for 3-1, a powerful forehand setting up break point before a backhand error from the Serbian.

Williams was struggling with her first serve – she had a first-serve percentage of just 52 in the first set – but dug herself out of a 15-40 hole to hold for 5-2 on her way to taking the opening set.

A break to begin the second set followed as Stojanovic powered a forehand down the line wide, and three consecutive backhand errors saw her cough up another break to fall 3-0 behind.

Williams took complete control from then on, finishing the second set without an unforced error and losing just nine points to quickly wrap up victory.

 

Data Slam: Williams' second-round dominance continues
Williams improved her record in the second round of majors to 73-2. It also stands at 19-1 at the Australian Open, where she last failed to reach the third round on her debut main-draw appearance in 1998.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 27/11
Stojanovic – 15/18

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 6/1
Stojanovic – 1/4

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 4/9
Stojanovic – 0/3

Naomi Osaka said she was "really nervous" before facing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but showed no signs of that as she breezed into the second round of the Australian Open.

Osaka looked dominant on day one of the first grand slam of the year as she welcomed being able to play in front of a crowd at Melbourne Park, taking only 68 minutes to wrap up a 6-1 6-2 victory.

The US Open champion has beaten Pavlyuchenkova three times in a row after losing when they first met in 2017 but was wary of facing the Russian on Rod Laver Arena.

Third seed Osaka said: "I was really nervous coming into this match. I know that I've played her before, and it was really tough. I just wanted to play well.

"The most recent memory I have of playing her was in the Osaka final [that Osaka won 6-2 6-3 in 2019], so it's always really hard to play someone that good in the first round.

"For me, I feel like it might have also helped in a way because I calmed my nerves because I felt like I couldn't afford to be that nervous. But, yeah, it was a tough match."

Serena Williams and Simona Halep stormed into round two, but the 2016 champion Angelique Kerber crashed out with a 6-0 6-4 defeat to world number 63 Bernarda Pera.

Alison Riske and Wang Qiang were the only other seeds to fall, losing to teenager Anastasia Potapova and qualifier Sara Errani respectively, while Bianca Andreescu made a winning comeback.

 

Williams sisters among major winners to make serene progress

Serena Williams did not look at all troubled by a shoulder problem as she started her latest quest to win a record-equalling 24th major singles title with a 6-1 6-1 demolition of Laura Siegemund.

Her older sister, Venus, also advanced in straight sets, beating Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2.

Iga Swiatek, the French Open champion, was too good for Arantxa Rus, winning 6-1 6-3, and Petra Kvitova got past Greet Minnen 6-3 6-4.

Kerber will not be claiming a fourth major crown this month after falling to Croatia-born American Pera.

 

Halep planning to oust another Australian

Two-time major winner Halep was a cut above Lizette Cabrera, winning 6-2 6-1 in 59 minutes, and is looking forward to facing another Australia in the second round in the form of Ajla Tomljanovic. 

"I like to be here, so I like to play Australians," Halep quipped.

"I feel good. My body is fit. It's always difficult to play a big hitter. So, I have to be strong on my legs, focus on myself and give my best.

"I expected a tough match because I played against her before and I know how it's gonna be. She's a good opponent, a good player, and I will focus just on myself like I do every time, but I'm ready for a good battle."

Andreescu back in business

Andreescu put her injury woes behind her, battling past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 in her first match for 15 months.

The Canadian had not played in a grand slam since winning the US Open in 2019 but was back in business on John Cain Arena.

Eighth seed Andreescu said: "After the match, I sat down with my team a little bit, and I'm like, 'Oh, guys, here we go again, those three-setters' and they just started laughing because they obviously knew what they were getting themselves into.

"But those matches are super good for me in my opinion because it really shows that I can scramble when I really need to, or if there's some pressure I can dig my way through it somehow. When my back is against the wall, not only today, but I've noticed throughout my last couple tournaments in 2019, I've been able to pull through with those."

Serena Williams will win a 24th grand slam singles title despite the mental pressure of trying to match the record having held her back, Ana Ivanovic says.

American Williams breezed into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday with a 6-1 6-1 victory over Laura Siegemund.

She won her 23rd major singles title in Melbourne in 2017, taking her to within one of matching the all-time record held by Margaret Court.

However, she has failed to win any of the following 14 slams, marking the longest span in her professional career without lifting any of the four biggest trophies.

Williams has won 22 of her majors over the last two decades, at least 15 more than any other women's player in that time, but her most recent four slam finals have ended in defeat.

Ivanovic, the former world number one who reached the final in Melbourne in 2008, wonders if the significance of matching Court's tally may have added extra pressure on Williams.

However, she remains convinced the 39-year-old will claim another title, telling Stats Perform News: "Yeah, definitely after winning so many grand slams, you still have it and especially [as] she reached so many finals, even though she didn't win a title.

"So, I think it's just a matter of, she proved that she can win matches and she can get a part in the grand slams.

"I think she wants to go further for the record. So I think that's maybe a bigger issue than just winning a title. So, it's both a little bit, I guess mental as well. But I'm sure she can do that. And I'm sure that's why she's there and still pushing and still being on top of the game after so many years."

"She's definitely an icon and a very, very powerful player. And I remember you know, when I played against her, she's very intimidating because her serve is just very, very strong. Her shots are very strong. So you feel like you have to attack and move forward otherwise you don't really have a chance. It was very inspiring to play against her and to play against someone who reached so much in women's sport. I think she will go [down] in history. Definitely."

Reigning champion Sofia Kenin begins her Australian Open defence against home hope Maddison Inglis on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old is hoping to become the first women's player to win successive Australian Opens since Victoria Azarenka back in 2013.

Kenin was a finalist at the French Open last year after winning in Melbourne, having failed even to reach the last eight in her first 11 majors, but she was beaten in straight sets by Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic warm-up tournament.

"She seemed very, very solid and very consistent lately, so of course she has a big chance but, like I said, it's so difficult to talk because you don't see the players playing, you don't see what kind of form they're on and how the last months have been for them," said Ivanovic.

"And you know, without competition for so long again, it definitely is going to [have an] affect but she can indeed [win]. One Australian Open and then she went on to the French Open final, so she's definitely been very, very consistent and she's going to I think try to go again.

"I think that's why it's very hard to predict who will be the winner of a grand slam, especially on the women's side. But on the other hand, it's nice to see new faces and new players coming up, and it also brings new excitement to the tour."

Ivanovic also tipped French Open champion Iga Swiatek to challenge in the latter stages, adding: "I do like Iga Swiatek and the way she plays. I like her aggressive game. I like the fact that she runs around and hits her forehead, it was kind of the style that I had. So I really hope she can keep up the work that she did last year and continue to do well."

Serena Williams took inspiration from the "unbelievable" Tom Brady as she cruised into the second round of the Australian Open with a "vintage" performance.

Brady made yet more history on Sunday, the most successful player in NFL history winning a seventh Super Bowl as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.

The incredible Brady, 43, showed age is no barrier, throwing three touchdown passes – two of which were scored by his long-time friend Rob Gronkowski – and completing 21 of 29 throws for 201 yards.

Brady did now allow any interceptions as he picked up the MVP award at Raymond James Stadium.

Williams started her quest for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title with a 6-1 6-1 defeat of Laura Siegemund on Monday, then paid tribute to her fellow American Brady.

She said of his exploits: "It's unbelievable. I just was watching as much as I could to see. My only word is it's unbelievable. I kept saying: 'This is unbelievable, this is unreal'.

"You can't say it was the system he was at formerly [the New England Patriots]. It's definitely Tom Brady, he's Tom Brady. He's amazing."

Brady banished everyone from his house in the days leading up to the Super Bowl so he could fully focus on inspiring the Buccaneers to victory, but the 39-year-old Williams said she could never do the same as she would not want to be separated from her daughter, Olympia.

"I would not be able to go function without my three-year-old around," Williams said. "I think I would be in a depression.

"We've been together every day of her life, so... Is that healthy? Not at all! Not even close. But every single day I just want to be around her. It's great. Everyone's different.

"I can totally understand why he would banish because if I had the strength to do it, I would too.

"I could see it's definitely a distraction, especially every year that I've played except for the past few months, I finally am starting to get better at it. The first two and a half years was very difficult. I wasn't strong enough to do the banishment."

Williams, who will face Nina Stojanovic in the second round at Melbourne Park, was delighted with the manner in which she swept Siegemund aside and had no issues with her shoulder after withdrawing from a pre-tournament event citing an injury problem.

"This was a good start. Definitely vintage 'Rena'. It's definitely good. I think I'm pretty good at pacing myself in a grand slam," she said.

"I was happy just to get through it. Wasn't sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it's feeling good, I'm feeling good. So, it felt really good.

"Last year was very crazy for the world, and to be able to do what I love and to be able to come out and compete and play at a grand slam, after the last 12 months, it makes me appreciate the moment even more."

Serena Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title started with a comprehensive win over Laura Siegemund at the Australian Open.

The American star was dominant on her way to a 6-1 6-1 victory over Siegemund on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.

Williams is aiming to join Margaret Court on a record 24 grand slam singles titles and she had no problems against the German in Melbourne.

She improved to 20-0 in the first round of the Australian Open, showing few signs of a shoulder injury she expects to be dealing with throughout the tournament.

Williams lost just 10 games in her previous two wins over Siegemund, but the seven-time Australian Open winner was broken in the opening game.

But Siegemund produced too many errors from then on, Williams winning in just 56 minutes to set up a clash against Nina Stojanovic.

 

Data Slam: Serena cruises after initial nerves
Williams was broken to 15 in the opening game when Siegemund produced a forehand return winner. However, she steadied, reeling off the next 10 games on her way to a comfortable win.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 16/15
Siegemund – 4/20

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 4/1
Siegemund – 0/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 6/9
Siegemund – 1/1

Serena Williams admitted she would be dealing with her shoulder injury during the Australian Open, but the star is "very confident" she will be ready to go.

Williams withdrew from the Yarra Valley Classic on Friday due to a right shoulder injury.

Asked how she was feeling on Saturday, the 23-time grand slam singles champion was upbeat.

"I feel pretty good. I've gotten a lot of treatment already on my shoulder.  But I'm super confident it's going to be great," Williams told a news conference.

"I'm feeling very confident, I think is a better word, and getting ready for hopefully the next two weeks."

However, Williams said the injury would be an issue throughout the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.

"It's definitely something that I'm going to have to deal with for the fortnight. Kind of knowing that going into a tournament definitely helps," the 39-year-old said.

"Also knowing, okay, I'm going to have to probably pick up some different therapy exercises after each match, etcetera.

"It's going to be really important."

Williams' last grand slam title came in Melbourne in 2017 and all eyes will again be on the American in her bid to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 major crowns.

While that record is again on her mind, Williams – who will face Laura Siegemund in the first round – said she was now more relaxed about it.

"It's definitely on my shoulders and on my mind. I think it's good to be on my mind," she said.

"I think it's a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I'm used to it now. It's more relaxing I would like to say, yeah."

Serena Williams has withdrawn from her semi-final at the Yarra Valley Classic due to an injury to her right shoulder.

As a result, home favourite Ash Barty will progress to the final of the Australian Open warm-up event at Melbourne Park.

Williams, who is chasing an eighth Australian Open crown and an historic 24th grand slam singles success, had been in impressive form this week, demolishing Tsvetana Pironkova in straight sets.

Friday's quarter-final against American Danielle Collins proved a harder slog, as she was forced into a match tiebreak to win 6-2 4-6 10-6.

An anticipated showdown against Barty will now not come to pass, with the world number one to pursue a ninth career title against either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova.

"I think the rust is always there for everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match," Barty told reporters after being taken the distance by Shelby Rodgers.

"Each match has been very different, different challenges, different things I've had to overcome, which is the best thing, to be able to work through those and give myself another chance to play a little bit better the next day, focus on some new challenges for the next day."

Williams is due to face Germany's Laura Siegemund in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic could face Dominic Thiem in a mouth-watering semi-final after being handed a tough path to success at Melbourne Park, where Serena Williams will continue her quest for a 24th grand slam singles title.

The Australian Open draw took place on Friday, with world number one Djokovic set to play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the opening round of the year's first major tournament.

Amid coronavirus concerns in Melbourne, where Swiss great Roger Federer is absent, Djokovic has set his sights on a ninth crown and 18th major success, but the top seed's title defence is far from straightforward.

Djokovic could face Gael Monfils (fourth round) and sixth seed Alexander Zverev (quarter-final) en route to a possible semi-final against US Open champion and third seed Thiem.

The Serb overcame Thiem in a five-set thriller in last year's Australian Open final, before the latter broke through for his maiden major trophy at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic could then meet second seed and 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster final – he blitzed the Spanish superstar in the 2019 Australian Open decider but lost in three one-sided sets in their previous meeting in the French Open final.

Nadal will go head-to-head with another Serb in the first round – Laslo Djere – while Stefanos Tsitsipas could await in the quarters, with 2019 US Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev also on the same side of the draw.

Meanwhile, Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th slam will begin against German Laura Siegemund.

The 39-year-old Williams has been stuck on 23 majors since winning the Australian Open in 2017 – losing finals at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019) and the US Open (2018 and 2019).

World number one and local hope Ashleigh Barty will meet Montenegro's Danka Kovinic in round one and defending champion Sofia Kenin faces Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis.

The last 16 could see Williams clash with Aryna Sabalenka, Barty meet Petra Martic, Kenin tackle Johanna Konta and three-time major champion Naomi Osaka do battle with last year's runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

One in eight women in the Australian Open draw have already won a grand slam title.

One in eight. It is staggering that of the 128 players who set out in the hope of singles glory at Melbourne Park, there are 16 major champions among them, and perhaps never has it been so difficult to predict who will carry off the title.

Compare it to the men's draw, where there are just five grand slam singles winners, and where you would struggle to make a compelling case for any more than three of those this year, with apologies to Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.

As long-running dynasties near their end on the men's and women's tours, the WTA is a lengthy step ahead of the ATP with a cast of appealing characters already assuming leading roles.

The leader of the pack

Three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka is at the forefront of a school of rising stars, but she has impressive rivals for company.

The last four years have seen the 15 women's majors won by 12 different players, whereas in the men's game, Rafael Nadal (6), Novak Djokovic (5), Roger Federer (3) and Dominic Thiem (1) have creamed off all the top prizes in the same period.

Often criticised in the past for a perceived lack of depth, in the years when Serena Williams won seemingly at will, the women's tour has exploded with a rush of bright and young talent.

Osaka is a revelation and a leader, on and off the court. Twice a US Open champion now, and a winner in Australia two years ago, the 23-year-old Japanese star took a powerful stance for racial equality at Flushing Meadows back in September, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests. She wants to achieve even more off the court than on it, where she looks assured of one day leaving an impressive legacy.

If there is any area where Osaka's game falls down it is consistency. She has surprisingly not passed the fourth round in 14 of her 17 grand slam appearances, but on every occasion she has gone beyond that stage it has been en route to lifting a trophy.

In hot pursuit

Last year's three slam champions were, at the times of their triumphs, just 21 (Sofia Kenin - Australian Open), 19 (Iga Swiatek - French Open) and 22 (Osaka - US Open).

The women's game has not seen anything comparable in terms of youthful winners of its blue riband tournaments since 2004, when the 21-year-old Justine Henin won in Australia, Anastasia Myskina landed the Roland Garros title at 22, Maria Sharapova was a 17-year-old bolter to Wimbledon glory and 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova scored a stunning Flushing Meadows victory.

Last year does not touch the 1997 season, when a 16-year-old Martina Hingis won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, denied a grand slam clean sweep by 19-year-old Iva Majoli's shock French Open final win over the Swiss.

But women's tennis is still seeing a remarkable shift to relative youth.

The 2019 season saw a then 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu scoop a stunning US Open win, while Ash Barty took the French Open.

Andreescu has been sidelined with a knee injury since the 2019 WTA Finals, but she is back for Australia, where Queenslander Barty, now 24, is the home hero.

Brace for the prospect of Andreescu and Barty joining Kenin, Swiatek and Osaka in a group of five who can take the women's game boldly into the post-Williams era.

But the Williams era isn't over

This is true, and again Serena will make another attempt to land that elusive 24th grand slam, the one that would move her level with Margaret Court on the all-time list.

She remains, at the age of 39, a magnificent competitor and a beguiling player, as does sister Venus, who turns 41 in June.

Serena has lost her last four grand slam finals, however, and the most recent run to a title match came almost 18 months ago in New York, where Andreescu had her number.

As the new gang of five threaten to pull away from the old establishment, perhaps Williams is now in the next group, along with the likes of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova: still perfectly capable of winning another slam or even multiple slams, but it feels important to strike now.

Serena has not won any of her last 10 slams, making it the longest span in her professional career without winning a major.

Barty party, or Sofia the second?

Osaka begins the Australian Open as favourite with bookmakers, but world number one Barty will have home support and could make that count. How she performs will be keenly watched, given she chose not to travel once the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, sitting out 11 months.

Should Barty get on a roll, hopes will be high she can become the first Australian woman to take the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978. Last year, Barty fell in the semi-finals to Kenin, and she will be eager to land a second slam title.

Kenin, whose intense concentration and steely resolve helped her pull off last year's shock Melbourne win, and follow up with a run to the French Open final, can be a match for anyone. She will be aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

Success on this level has come perhaps ahead of schedule for the American, and the same can be said for Swiatek, whose demolition of the field at Roland Garros in October made a mockery of her being ranked number 53 in the world.

The teenage Polish player became her country's first grand slam singles champion, and with that status comes the expectation she will follow it up. How that turns out for her will be one of the most intriguing of sub-plots in the new season.

Changing priorities

Halep said in a recent WTA interview that winning an Olympic medal was her "main goal" for 2021, although Osaka will also have the Tokyo Games firmly circled in her diary.

For the likes of those other players among the 16 slam winners in the Melbourne draw, there will be differing targets this year, too.

Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and particularly Garbine Muguruza may yet come good again on the big stage at some point this season.

For Venus Williams, Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur, it may be a case of one final hurrah.

As the likes of Coco Gauff emerge as potential future big-stage winners, and fledgling ambassadors, the women's game looks in safe hands.

Serena Williams roared into the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova on a star-studded day of action in Australia.

The 23-time grand slam champion was in fine form at Melbourne Park, where the biggest names in women's tennis were competing across multiple tournaments, as she sealed a straight-sets triumph to continue her preparations for a shot at an eighth Australian Open title.

In doing so the 39-year-old extended her head-to-head record over the Bulgarian to 6-0 and was delighted to get the job done.

"It's definitely nice to get another win," the American said during her on-court interview.

"She's clearly a great player, so it wasn't easy, but it was good to come through."

Speaking at her media conference, Williams added: "Last time it was an incredible three-set match, so today I was like, 'All right, let's really try and focus and learn to do better than last time.'"

World number one Ash Barty had a less straightforward path to the last eight, requiring three sets to see off Marie Bouzkova.

The home hope ultimately prevailed 6-0 4-6 6-3, with second seed and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin also taken the distance in a 5-7 7-5 6-2 win over Jessica Pegula, as Nadia Podoroska dug deep to down Petra Kvitova 5-7 6-1 7-6 (9-7).

With Barty now set to face Shelby Rogers, Danielle Collins awaits Williams having impressively defeated third seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3), while Garbine Muguruza overcame Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2 to set up a meeting with Kenin.

In the Gippsland Trophy, the top three seeds all dodged upsets, with two-time grand slam winner Simona Halep, 2019 Australian Open victor Naomi Osaka and 2018 Tour Finals champion Elina Svitolina safely navigating through the last 16.

Fifth-seeded Briton Johanna Konta failed to convert two match points as she succumbed to a 4-6 7-6 (12-10) 7-6 (7-4) defeat to Irina-Camelia Begu.

Meanwhile, at the Grampians Trophy there were wins for Anett Kontaveit, Jennifer Brady and Angelique Kerber.

Serena Williams and Simona Halep started the season with straight-sets victories in Melbourne a week before the Australian Open gets under way.

Williams and Halep played in an exhibition event with a crowd of 4,000 watching on in Adelaide last Friday and they were back in competitive action three days later.

Legendary American Williams beat Daria Gavrilova 6-1 6-4 to move into the third round of the Yarra Valley Classic.

The fifth seed struck 27 winners to 15 unforced errors on Margaret Court Arena as she set up a meeting with Tsvetana Pironkova, who ousted Donna Vekic 1-6 6-4 6-2.

Williams said: "It was a good match for me. It wasn't easy at all. It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she's from here, so she obviously always plays hard. So it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end."

Third seed Karolina Pliskova, Petra Martic, Danielle Collins and Marketa Vondrousova also advanced to the last 16 on Monday.

Elsewhere, top seed Halep is through to the third round of the Gippsland Trophy following a 6-4 6-4 win over Anastasia Potapova.

Halep hit 23 winners and broke twice in each set in what was her first official match since October.

Elina Svitolina, the third seed, beat Andrea Petkovic 6-1 6-4, while Coco Gauff, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Jelena Ostapenko were among the other winners seven days prior to the start of the first grand slam of 2021.

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