MELBOURNE (TIP): World number one Serena Williams scorched past experienced Slovak Daniela Hantuchova in straight sets to reach the fourth round and set a new record of 61 Australian Open wins on Friday. The American top seed used her powerful serve to good effect as she raced through the match on another hot Melbourne day 6-3, 6-3 in 80 minutes. Williams, bidding for a sixth Australian Open crown, now faces either former world number one Ana Ivanovic or 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur for a place in the quarterfinals. “It was a tough match. Daniela is a great opponent so I’m really happy to come out with the win,” said Williams.
“It was hot but you have to play, you have to be ready and prepare yourself mentally. I’m excited to get through.” Hantuchova, ranked 33, was never going to be an easy opponent and she had her chances with six break points. But Williams fired down aces at crucial times, with eight in the first set alone. The victory set a new landmark for the American veteran, who is gunning to match the achievement of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in winning her 18th Grand Slam. Beating Hantuchova was her 61st win at the Australian Open, surpassing the previous record set by Margaret Court. Williams, who made her Australian Open debut in 1998, also drew alongside Open-era record-holder Lindsay Davenport in playing 69 singles matches at Melbourne Park.
The morning match got under away with the temperature already touching 36 Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit), with Williams and Hantuchova both holding serve as they acclimatised on Rod Laver Arena. The Slovak had two break points on Williams’ next serve but the American delivered a net volley then blasted two aces to ensure she held. As she got into her stride, Williams’ ball-striking and placement was improving and she scored the break she wanted in the sixth game to take charge. Hantuchova had a break point in the seventh but again Williams’ powerful serve came to the rescue as she held for 5-2. The Slovak held serve with a sizzling backhand down the line and she kept applying the pressure to again have two break points as Williams was serving for the set.
But the world’s top player saved both, hitting another two aces before forcing a backhand error from Hantuchova to take the set in 38 minutes. She was in control and Hantuchova was flagging, with a series of unforced errors handing Williams an early break in the second to go 1-0 in front. The Slovak rallied and a forehand down the line ensured she broke to love in the sixth game, only for the focused Williams to bounce straight back and win three games in a row to take the match