WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen | What does it mean to be Serena Williams on court? Plus, insight from giant-killer Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Dominika Cibulova from Day 4 at the Australian Open.
WTA Staff

MELBOURNE, Australia - Taking stock of the first two rounds of play at the Australian Open, where Serena Williams leads a class of players who look primed for a title run.

Fit and ready to fight.

Through the first two rounds of play, here are the players who look in-form and ready to make a real run at the Australian Open title.

Serena Williams

No one had a tougher draw in the first two rounds than Serena and she passed with flying colors, beating Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova in straight sets. Her win over Safarova on Thursday night was particularly impressive. Serena fired 15 aces and a total of 35 winners to 23 unforced errors and she was clutch when she needed to be. Serena faced down six break points and saved them all to win, 6-3, 6-4.

And you know it was good if she says it was good. Serena's her harshest critic, which explains why she didn't have much patience for anyone finding fault in her performance.

Karolina Pliskova

Through two matches against, as she said, soft opponents, the World No.5 has lost just four games, dropping two bagel sets along the way. She has yet to be tested in the tournament, but she's been striking the ball well and has been broken just once.

Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta

Konta continues her incredible form that was on display in her run to the Apia International Sydney title last week. She has not lost a set, beating Kirsten Flipkens and Naomi Osaka handily, and her level has been outstanding. If she wasn't in Serena's quarter of the draw she'd be a more than justifiable pick to make the semifinals, if not the final. That's just how good Jo is playing right now.

Dominika Cibulkova

The No.6 seed has not lost a set but she's been made to fight on court to beat Denisa Allertova and Hsieh Su-Wei. There have been some wobbles, but the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global champion has yet to panic, a true sign of her growing confidence. Cibulkova did not come into the tournament with many matches, and she may need a few more to fully round into form. But she's been solid early.

Garbine Muguruza

Garbiñe Muguruza

The Spaniard insists that her abductor injury is getting better as time goes on, and her ability to pocket tough straight-set wins in the early going will only help. She did not have dominant wins over Marina Erakovic and Sam Crawford, but she's shown the same resilience she showed at the Brisbane International to start the year. Muguruza is battle-tested and she's playing well. The only question is whether her body holds up during the tournament.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Much like Pliskova, the No.8 seed has yet to face a real test, losing just one game to Mariana Duque-Mariño and handling Aussie teenager Jamiee Fourlis easily.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams

As I wrote before the tournament, Venus has a great draw to make the second week and possibly the semifinals. Through two matches she has looked far better than expected given the right arm injury she's been managing. Much like Muguruza, we'll be keeping an eye on how she's doing physically - she withdrew from doubles so as to not aggravate the injury - but so far, so good for Venus.

The Dark Horse

Eugenie Bouchard looks primed to play spoiler in her section of the draw. Bouchard has been playing confident tennis in Melbourne and faced CoCo Vandeweghe on Friday. Get through that match and she could earn a shot at defending champion Angelique Kerber, who is still trying to find her form.

The Surprises

Jennifer Brady, Maria Sakkari, Nicole Gibbs, Mona Barthel, Ashleigh Barty, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Sorana Cirstea probably aren't names many penciled into the third round.

Mirjana Lucic Baroni

Quote of the Day: "Sometimes people think you play a top player and you'll go in there relaxed like you have nothing to lose. I don't see it that way at all."

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni pulled off the upset of the day, routing No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3, 6-2 in just 66 minutes. The 34-year-old fired 33 winners to just 20 unforced errors, and she left Radwanska playing the role of bystander. "Shooting - not playing - is the right word for that game," Radwanska said. "In or out. That's it. It went so quickly."

"Sometimes people think you play a top player and you'll go in there relaxed like you have nothing to lose," Lucic-Baroni said. "I don't see it that way at all. I know I have the game to beat top players so I came in there with a gameplan today to win the match. I didn't go to see the court and enjoy. I'm way too old and I've been around way too long to just gain experience. I came there to win the match."

It took the Croat 19 years to win her second match ever at the Australian Open, which came in the first round. Now, 48 hours later she scored her third.

"Feelings like tonight are incredible on court," Lucic-Baroni said. "You can't replicate it anywhere else in life."

Jennifer Brady saves five match points to beat Heather Watson.

The American qualifier, ranked No.116, is playing just her second main draw at a Slam. Thanks to some clutch serving, she saved five match points to beat Watson, 2-6, 7-6(3), 10-8 in 2 hours and 43 minutes. She'll face No.14 seed Elena Vesnina next. The Russian has a chance to make the second week without facing a player in the Top 100.

Brady told reporters she had no expectation of still being in the tournament in the third round. "I booked my hotel through the 20th," Brady said. "Gotta change that now."

Brady's friends are pretty excited for her:


Greece's Maria Sakkari won her first main draw match at a Slam here in Melbourne last year. Twelve months later she's into her first third round, beating No.28 seed Alizé Cornet, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. With the massive Greek support here in Melbourne, Sakkari was left speechless when asked what this result means to her.

"I still cannot believe it. It's a dream. I grew up watching all these players that I'm playing now and I could not imagine when I was young that I would be here in the third round playing against these players."

"It's something that not many people can do, around the world. I still cannot believe it so I cannot tell you what it feels like."

Caroline Wozniacki

Johanna Konta and Caroline Wozniacki set for a big third-round clash.

Both women won through easily on Thursday, setting up a must-watch match on Saturday. Clear your schedules. That's the biggest third-round showdown of the tournament. It will be the first meeting between the two.

Dominika Cibulkova on the mental game.

Cibulkova started working with a sports psychologist in February of 2015 and she credits all the hard work they've done over the last two years for her on-court improvements. But she admits that she wasn't sure about it when they first began working together.

"In the beginning I didn't believe this was something that would help me achieve what I want," she said. "But I started to work with him and I saw the results. So I started to believe once I tried it myself."

Earlier in the week, CoCo Vandeweghe said she had tried working with a sports psychologist years ago but stopped because she found it too invasive. I asked Cibulkova why more players don't work with a sports psychologist, especially in a high-pressure game like tennis.

"I think the best players, they work with a mental coach, they just don't talk about it," she said. "They just want to keep it for themselves. Who would want to say, 'I'm doing this extra and it will help you too'?

"Three years ago I thought if I give 100% on the court then off the court it's my time off and I don't have to think about tennis and do other things. Now my coach led me to this mental coach and he said, 'Domi, you need this because your game is so good but you need your head to be more stable and more strong.'"

Nicole Gibbs

Nicole Gibbs gets back to basics.

Gibbs is into the third round of a Slam for the first time since the US Open in 2014, and for just the second time in her career. She came through an All-American derby, beating Irina Falconi in straight sets.

Watching Gibbs early this season it's clear that she's been working on being more aggressive and looking to hit forehands with more pace and placement. Gibbs credits a racquet switch during the off-season, trading in her Wilson Burn for the new Wilson Blade. But she's also getting back to the fundamentals of her game, which she felt she went away from last year.

"When my dad built my game he kind of modeled me after Justine Henin," Gibbs said. "He wanted me running around backhands, looking for my forehand everywhere. His only regret was not giving me a one-handed backhand.

"That was the basis of my game and for the first time in a long time I have a coach that sees it that way as well. So we're getting back to the foundational principles that my game was built around and I think that's going to take me to the highest potential peak of my game."

Naomi Osaka bows out.

For the first time in five Slams, Osaka failed to reach the third round, though in this case you can blame a tough draw against Konta. Asked about her goals for the season, the 19-year-old was pretty clear.

"Goals for the season, I wanted to get into the Top 20, win a tournament, and then get to the quarterfinals of a Slam."

Lucie Safarova, Serena Williams

Serena is just...Serena.

"Overall I played really well. But unfortunately, Serena played...Serena."

That was Lucie Safarova after playing a great match and still finding herself on the losing end of a straight-set loss to Serena.

"She's not someone you see in a second-round match. I know that [French Open final against Safarova] was a tough three-set match. She never gives up. Like she's just always fighting to come back. So I knew that I wanted to jump out in the lead.

"I knew that I wanted to just be Serena. That's what I'm good at doing, is being Serena."

Serena Williams

So what exactly does it mean to "be Serena"?

"To me, it's being a champion, but not only by the way I play, but the things I do off the court as well," Serena said. "I know that being Serena on the court is in a way being calm, which is in my name, but always having that fire as well. I think, most of all, being confident. I should be confident 'cause there's no other Serena. I mean, I'm Serena. Maybe there is another one, but she's not in tennis.

"So I think sometimes I forget. I try to be so humble that I forget I have accomplished so much. I really wanted today to just have confidence when I was out there."

Day 5 Matches to Watch:

Eugenie Bouchard vs. CoCo Vandeweghe (1st match, Rod Laver Arena)
Angelique Kerber vs. Kristyna Pliskova (2nd match, Rod Laver Arena)
Elina Svitolina vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (1st match, Margaret Court Arena)
Venus Williams vs. Duan Ying-Ying (3rd match, Margaret Court Arena)
Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Anastasija Sevastova (2nd night match, Margaret Court Arena)
Jelena Jankovic vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (1st match, Hisense Arena)

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.