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.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal agreed it was great to be playing in front of busy grandstands again as tennis stars emerged from lockdown in Australia.

The women's and men's tennis tours have been contested largely behind closed doors over the past year, and a number of tournaments, most notably Wimbledon, have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australia public has given a cautious welcome to the arrival of the world's leading players, who have been quarantining in hotel rooms for much of the past fortnight, only allowed to briefly leave in order to train.

Ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on February 8 in Melbourne, Williams and Nadal are among a star-studded set of players who travelled to Adelaide to feature in the 'A Day at the Drive' exhibition event.

They both scored victories on Friday, with Williams defeating US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-2 2-6 10-7 and Nadal snatching a 7-5 6-4 win over Dominic Thiem.

The delight in both at seeing crowds at a tournament was plain, with Williams saying in an on-court interview: "Thanks everyone for having us. We haven't played in front of a crowd in over a year. It's been a really long time."

In fact, it has not quite been a full year since the tours locked down initially, as it was early March when most tournaments began to be called off, with crowds frozen out.

Williams said the reception made the difficult past fortnight, being hidden away from the world, worth the strain for the players.

"This is really cool and then for having us and trusting us with your laws was great," said the 23-time grand slam winner. "We were so excited to be here and it's worth it."

Nadal said he was "super happy" to still be playing at the highest level and back in front of Australian crowds.

The pandemic has been carefully managed to the point where very few have the virus and it is considered safe to allow crowds into sporting events in the country.

Nadal said: "Hopefully this situation will go away quick and we will be able to enjoy fans on court [around the world].

"We're super excited to have fans at the Australian Open and today."

That optimism and excitement was shared by men's world number one Novak Djokovic, who played just one set against Jannik Sinner due to a problem with blisters on his right hand.

Eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic told fans: "Thank you so much for coming out and making our day and making our year.

"We didn't play in front of this much crowd for 12 months. This is definitely something very special.

"It wasn't easy, obviously, with 14 days being constrained in the room and a few hours to train, but at the end of the day it was worth it because you guys made it very special today for us."

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