Serena Williams advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals with a tough three-set win over No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka and now faces a potentially brutal path to her record-tying 24th major title.
Williams, 39, could have to beat the world’s No. 1, 2 and 3 players in order to tie Australian Margaret Court atop the record books.
Serena, the No. 10 seed, will face No. 2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals, could meet No. 3 Naomi Osaka in the semis and then could be rewarded with world No. 1 Ash Barty in the final.
Williams first had to deal with a spirited performance from Sabalenka whom she dispatched 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in their first meeting in 2 hours, 9 minutes, denying Sabalenka the first Grand Slam quarterfinal showing of her career.
“It was obviously real important because I didn’t want to be out of the tournament, so it felt good to kind of clutch that in the end and get through that,” Williams said.
Williams, who has won eight of her 23 majors Down Under, moved on to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the 13th time. She moved well while hitting 30 winners, including nine aces, to hand Sabalenka only her second loss in her past 20 matches.
“I just felt like even games that I lost, I was so close to winning,” Williams said. “Not all games, but probably most of those games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew that I could. I still hadn’t reached my peak. I was like, ‘Okay, Serena, you got this, just keep going.'”
Serena said she really only hears the voice of her older sister Venus, who lost in the second round after suffering an ankle injury.
“She’s really one of the only voices I hear,” Serena said. “I don’t know if I zone out and she’s the only one I hear. I know when I hear her voice, it just makes me calm and confident. Yeah, I think there’s something about it that just makes me feel really good.
Williams will now face two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep, who beat reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatekin despite dropped the first set, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Serena leads Halep 9-2, 3-1 in majors, but was crushed in their last meeting in the 2019 Wimbledon final, 6-2, 6-2. Serena’s last win against Halep came in the 2019 Australian Open fourth round.
“She is the best,” Halep said. “I will try my best because you can only beat Serena if you play your best.”
If Serena can get past Halep, she could meet Osaka, the three-time Grand Slam champion who was down 5-3 in the third set and survived two match points before edging No. 14 Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. She will next face Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei .
“I think today was just a battle if I can describe it in one word. For me, I feel like I’m very happy with myself for the way I overcame the match,” Osaka said. “I think, maybe a year ago … I probably wouldn’t have won this match. There are so many things that I was thinking about on the court that just would have blocked me from trying to win the match or trying to problem-solve.”
Williams has been stuck on 23 majors since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with her daughter Olympia. She is 0-4 in Grand Slam finals since then and also lost in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last fall.
Now she has another chance to win that elusive 24th title, but could have to beat Halep and Osaka before a possible finals date with world No. 1 Barty, who meets American Shelby Rogers next in the fourth round.
“I think it’s great depth again,” Williams said of the field. “I think it’s been a lot of players that really could win the title since the beginning of the draw. I think there’s so many players that can come out and have won Grand Slams and can keep winning.
“It’s good. It’s good to see. It’s good to see that I’m in that mix, too.”