Serena Williams was once inclined to make blasé comments in the wake of yet another demolishing of opponents at events all over the world.
Now, a more mature 32, she makes a point of showing them respect. That includes calling No. 104 Vesna Dolonc of Serbia, whom she beat 6-1, 6-2 in the second round, “a really good player.” For five-time champion Williams, it was a 60th match win in 14 appearances at the Australian Open.
She is coming off a 78-4 record in 2013 – those 78 victories being 16 more than her previous high for a single season.
“It always seems like I’m one of the favourites to win,” Williams said about her status at Melbourne Park. “But for me, I look at it as kind of exciting that I have a chance to go all the way.”
Her next opponent on Friday is 30-year-old Daniela Hantuchova. Oddly, these two 30-somethings have not played since 2009.
Williams has an 8-1 career advantage, with the only loss coming at the same stage – the round of 32 – at the Australian Open in 2006.
But that was a different Serena Williams. She started that season ranked No. 95 after knee surgery in 2005. Tellingly, she was so lacking in confidence that she asked a tour official before playing Hantuchova where her ranking would fall to if she lost – never a good sign.
But it didn’t take long for her to regain her swagger. In her most recent match with the willowy Slovak, Williams prevailed 6-2 6-0 at the 2009 US Open.
Day five of this year’s event features a pair of Aussie fan favourites, the ever-unpredictable Samantha Stosur and Casey Dellacqua, the West Australian who claimed after her 6-3 6-0 victory over 18th seed Kirsten Flipkens in Wednesday’s heat that she was “solar-powered.”
Stosur plays Ana Ivanovic for a place in the fourth round. Theirs is a very even rivalry – Stosur leads 4-3 but they split two meetings late in 2013. Stosur won in Moscow and Ivanovic in Sofia. They did likewise in their only previous Grand Slam encounters in 2006 – Stosur prevailing at the Australian Open and Ivanovic at Roland Garros.
Ivanovic, a former No. 1 (2008), was 1-13 versus top-10 players in 2013 but feels reinvigorated by a new team headed by coach and fellow-Serb Nemanja Kontic. “They’re very positive, and that’s something I was lacking in the past,” said the world No. 14. “I really feel I broke out of that little negative spell. I just feel happy competing.”
Both she and Stosur have excellent serves (notwithstanding occasional double faults) and explosive game styles, so it should be a competitive match.
The Dellacqua-Zheng Jie encounter will involve a lot of chopping. The 28-year-old Aussie prepared for her last opponent, Flipkens, by practicing against under-spin shots. That should help against Zheng whose modus operandi is to slice and dice from her low centre of gravity on court.
Among the men’s highlights expected on the fifth day – the fourth consecutive of searing heat – will be No. 3 seed David Ferrer against in-form Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, and the combustible Jerzy Janowicz of Poland versus precision-shotmaker of Florian Mayer of Germany.
Three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic, wearing his long-brimmed white cap, is seeking shelter from the sun and anything unexpected from his free-swinging opponent, Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Ivanovic v Stosur
Ivanovic and Stosur have always played very close – but Ivanovic comes in off a title in Auckland and is in superior form. Ivanovic in two.
Chardy v Ferrer
Even if Chardy is 1-4 versus Ferrer, he won their most memorable match – 7-5 in the fifth set at Wimbledon in 2010. Chardy in four.
Li v Safarova
Li has won six in a row against Czech Safarova since a loss in Portugal in 2006. She’s just getting into her Melbourne Park groove. Li in two.
Querrey v Fognini
The 198cm Querrey blitzed Gulbis in the second round, and should be able to overpower the talented but temperamental Fognini. Querrey in four.
Dellacqua v Zheng
The heat-seeking Dellacqua won the Australian Open wild card playoff in December, and is now on a five-match winning streak at Melbourne Park – which is bad news for Zheng. Dellacqua in two.
F. Mayer v Janowicz
Mayer has a variety of shots that are uncommon on the tour – and that’s just one more annoyance for the 203cm Pole Janowicz in the heat. Mayer in four.
S. Williams v Hantuchova
Serena and sister Venus are a combined 18-2 against Hantuchova and have blocked her path 11 times in Grand Slam events. Serena in two.
Roger-Vasselin v Anderson
Roger-Vasselin has tried to become a little nastier on court and it has helped; he almost halved his ranking (100 to 52) in 2013, which points to an Anderson exit. Roger-Vasselin in five.