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Serena Williams posted a strong showing in Melbourne Park on Wednesday, as the 23-time Grand Slam-winner beat Tsvetana Pironkova 6-1, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals of the Yarra Valley Classic.
"It’s definitely nice to get another win," Williams said during her on-court interview after the match. "She’s clearly a great player, so it wasn't easy, but it was good to come through."
Despite a lopsided 5-0 head-to-head in Williams’ favor coming into the match, Pironkova had taken the first set from the former World No.1 in three of their five previous meetings, including at last year's US Open, where Pironkova made a surprising run to the quarterfinals in her first tournament in more than three years.
It was a straight-sets victory for the No.5 seed on Margaret Court Arena this time around. She grabbed a sixth win in her six meetings with Pironkova after an hour and a quarter of play.
"Last time it was an incredible three-set match," Williams told the media during her post-match press conference. "So today I was like, all right, let's really try and focus and learn to do better than last time."
Williams, who has won seven Australian Open titles, rolled to the victory without facing any break points. She converted 80 percent of her first-service points to seal an elite-eight spot at the WTA 500 event.
The first set was a master class by Williams. Her backhand and movement kept her in firm command during the latter stages of the opener.
Pironkova put up a much sterner test as the pair entered set two, which stayed on serve through 5-4. A highly entertaining tussle took place there, and eventually the Williams returning trumped the Pironkova guile to solidify the lone break of the second set on her fourth match point of the lengthy game.
Barty outlasts Bouzkova on home soil
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty had to dig deep after a swift opening set to move into the quarterfinals of the Yarra Valley Classic, overcoming No.16 seed Marie Bouzkova 6-0, 4-6, 6-3.
Playing her first WTA event in nearly a year, the 2019 Roland Garros champion needed just under two hours to stave off the challenge from World No.52 Bouzkova, who was playing a reigning World No.1 for the first time in her career.
"It was a really solid match," said Barty, in her on-court, post-match interview. "I felt like in the middle of the match I just pressed a little bit, and lost my execution, but glad to find it in the end, and get another opportunity to play tomorrow."
"[Bouzkova] makes a lot of returns and makes you work really hard in every single service game," Barty said. "So I’m trying to get a few cheapies when I can, and trying not to give away too many cheapies myself, that was probably the key. Happy to get it on my terms in the end."
Barty dominated in the opener with her all-court game, grabbing the one-set lead in 32 minutes. In the second set, though, Bouzkova made her move by breaking for 3-2 with a return winner, then holding that advantage to the end of the set.
Barty found herself a point away from falling behind a late break in the final set but found her way out of trouble for a hold for 4-3, on the way to winning the final three games of the match.
Barty will now face Shelby Rogers in the last eight, after the American upset No.7 seed Petra Martic of Croatia, 7-6(1), 6-3. In their only previous meeting, Barty defeated Rogers, 7-5, 6-1, in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open. Rogers remembers it vividly….
Kenin stages comeback, sets quarterfinal clash with Muguruza in 2020 Australian Open final rematch
No.2 seed Sofia Kenin also had a struggle before clinching a spot in the quarterfinals of the Yarra Valley Classic, as the reigning Australian Open champion came back to knock off fellow American Jessica Pegula, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2.
Pegula had beaten Kenin in their only prior meeting, which came at Quebec City three years earlier. The World No.64 was two games away from repeating that feat and earning her first-ever victory over a current Top 10 opponent, reaching a set-and-a-break lead, but Kenin was able to fend off the challenge from her compatriot and clinch a comeback win in a shade over two hours.
A hard-fought opening set came to a halt for Kenin when she double faulted on Pegula’s fifth set point, and Pegula extended the momentum from there, racing ahead to 4-1 in the second set.
The tables turned when Kenin broke Pegula to pull back on serve at 4-3 in the second set, starting a run of three straight service breaks for the No.2 seed which culminated in the second-set comeback.
"I started fighting, found my groove, I was happy the way I was able to change things in the second," said Kenin, in her post-match press conference. "First I did some things wrong, then I made the adjustment in the second."
Kenin eased through the third set, as she fought to her ninth straight victory within the Melbourne Park complex, the site of her first Grand Slam title last season.
"It's funny, at 5-2 in the third set, I start making double faults," said Kenin. "I was like, 'This cannot happen right now. I want to close it out, leave and be done.' I'm happy I was able to close it out."
Kenin now moves into a rematch of last year's Australian Open final, as she will next face No.6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain in the quarterfinals. Former World No.1 Muguruza zipped past No.11 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 6-1, 6-2, in just 56 minutes to set up that tilt.
Garbiñe Muguruza has dropped a total of 5 games over four sets en route to the quarterfinals at the Yarra Valley Classic.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 3, 2021
A rematch of the Australian Open final against Sofia Kenin is set for Thursday. pic.twitter.com/zg4OtGvYGp
Collins holds off Pliskova
Danielle Collins was too strong down the stretch of both sets Wednesday as the No. 13 seed narrowly escaped her showdown with Karolina Pliskova to reach the quarterfinals of the Yarra Valley Classic.
Collins won 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) to become the fourth American in the final eight.
Shortly afterward, an elated Collins addressed the sparse crowd still in attendance on Margaret Court Arena.
“I have a great winning record on this court,” she said. “I love playing in front of all the Australian fans.”
Collins played a clean match throughout, tallying 39 winners, nine more than her opponent.
But it was her defense - or perhaps self-defense - she was most proud of.
“I played against one of the best servers. I was just trying not to get hit,” she quipped.
Next up: a semifinal clash with Serena Williams.