MELBOURNE, Australia - Six-time champion Serena Williams avoided the upset bug sweeping through the Australian Open on Thursday, defusing Lucie Safarova in straight sets to take her place in the third round.
Following the shock exits of No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and reigning men's champion Novak Djokovic earlier in the day, Williams restored order at Melbourne Park with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Williams' previous meeting with Safarova came in the 2015 French Open final, and despite a nervous start the pair succeeded in producing another high-quality encounter, featuring 59 winners and only 39 unforced errors.
Great match from Safarova. 8 aces, 3 DFs, 24 winners, 16 UFE.
15 aces, 6 DFs, 35 winners, 23 UFE, saved 6/6 BPs.
? WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 19, 2017
"The last time we played I think was in the final at Roland Garros, so she's not easy to play in the second round," Williams told Rennae Stubbs in her on-court interview. "It's not easy, but I'm really happy to get through that. I've definitely played two really tough opponents. It's a great way to start the tournament."
Williams did not have things all her own way on Rod Laver. Indeed, she displayed enough fallibility early on to suggest that she too could be on the wrong end of another shock result. However, as she reined in her groundstrokes, this threat rapidly began to disappear.
The decisive moment in the first set came in the eighth game, Williams jumping all over an inviting second serve to pummel a backhand beyond the Czech's reach. In the second set, Safarova continued show glimpses of the form that once took her to No.5 in the rankings, threatening a break at 3-2.
Williams erased the danger with an ace and in the following game struck herself. This break proved to be the difference, Williams withstanding some late pressure to set up an all-American clash with Nicole Gibbs in the third round.
"That was a great performance. I played well. She's a former Top 10 player. The last time we played together was in the finals of a Grand Slam," Serena said in her press conference. "You know, it's not an easy match. She's a really good player. You have to go for more, which obviously makes a few more errors."