Serena Williams on next opponent Aryna Sabalenka: ‘She has a big, big power game. Strong like myself’

Serena Williams post-match

It was all about surviving for Serena Williams in the third round of the Australian Open, but she knows she will have to up her game when she takes on Aryna Sabalenka in the next round.

The 23-time Grand Slam winner made a sluggish start against Anastasia Potapova as she faced three break points in her first service game of the match before the Russian broke in game six.

Williams hit back immediately only to trade breaks of serve with Potapova in the next two games again before it went to a tie-breaker, which was a topsy-turvy affair won by the American.

The 10th seed lost her serve in the opening game of the second set, but settled down after that as she broke thrice to secure a 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 win on Rod Laver Arena for her 90th win at the Australian Open.

“I came out of the blocks not like I have been before,” the former world No 1 said after the match. “But it’s all about surviving and playing better every round.”

She later added: “It was good to get through that match. The first set was extremely tight. I was a little tight, but it worked out. I was able to play a little more free in the second set.”

Up next is Belarusian Sabalenka, who is one of the form players on the WTA Tour as since the French Open her record is 16-1 as she won three titles and lost just one match, at the Gippsland Trophy warm-up event.

“She hits very hard. She has a big, big power game. She’s a big girl. Strong like myself. So I think it will be a really good match – with no crowd,” Williams said.

The seventh-seeded Sabalenka reached the fourth round after beating American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1.

“The first time [I saw her play], I think… I was around 13 years old. I think I said, ‘I want to hit even stronger than her (laughing),” she said.

“I don’t know if it was, was it smart or not, but [at] that point, I was thinking like, ‘Wow, she’s really powerful. I want to be like powerful, too, and I want to dominate on the tour the same like she do.'”

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