Bring on Maria Sharapova.
Top-seeded Serena Williams cruised to a straight-sets victory over Margarita Gasparyan in Saturday's fourth-round match at the 2016 Australian Open, 6-2, 6-1. The six-time Australian Open champion has not lost a set through the first four rounds and will face Sharapova in the quarterfinals with her eyes on a second straight title Down Under.
Williams frequently controls matches with her powerful serve, but Gasparyan tallied more aces Saturday (4-3). However, the American dictated the tone of the match with 19 winners compared to Gasparyan's nine and won five critical break points.
The American star wasted little time in seizing the lead. She registered a break on Gasparyan's second service game and grabbed a 4-1 lead in the first set before some of the fans took their seats.
Tennis journalist Chris Goldsmith pointed out early in the match that history was not on Gasparyan's side:
Serena Williams has career W100 L19 v Russians, including last 32.. last defeat Makarova here in 2012, Dementieva has most success #ausopen— Chris Goldsmith (@TheTennisTalker) January 24, 2016
Williams finished the first set in 30 minutes to the tune of 6-2. She had only two aces, but the American controlled the volleys and rarely gave her opponent any opportunities to hit meaningful winners. Christopher Clarey of the New York Times remarked on Williams' first set:
Serena deadly in the forecourt so far today. Striking the ball particularly cleanly moving forward— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) January 24, 2016
The No. 1 seed's initial approach impressed Matt Zemek of Comeback Sports:
When you don't have a maximum of energy, play points to work yourself into a more energized state. Serena, thinking well in this match.— Matt Zemek (@mzemek) January 24, 2016
Clarey said Williams was "in that quiet place that any opponent should dread."
The second set started in the same manner, with the two players holding serve through the first three games and Williams breaking to go ahead 3-1.
She broke Gasparyan again to go ahead 5-1, which ended any comeback hopes for the Russian. From there, Williams served her way to the easy victory, 6-2, 6-1. Nick McCarvel of USA Today reacted to the blowout:
Once again, Williams looked unbeatable on a Grand Slam stage.
Next up for Williams is a quarterfinal showdown with No. 5-seeded Maria Sharapova. While a battle with a top-five seed should theoretically be a challenge for Williams, she owns an 18-2 advantage in head-to-head matches against the Russian star, according to WTATennis.com.
Jill Martin of CNN.com put the "rivalry" into perspective:
With a 2-18 record, Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams doesn't feel like a rivalry. It just isn't. We need another word for it. #AusOpen— Jill Martin (@Jill_CNN) January 24, 2016
Williams has also won the past 17 matches against Sharapova and will have a clear mental edge coming into the quarterfinal contest. All it will likely take from Williams is a couple of early breaks or dominant service games to put doubt into Sharapova's head.
And even a little doubt against the legendary Williams would likely spell doom for Sharapova's Australian Open title chances.
Williams discussed what it took to beat Gasparyan in her post-match interview, via the Australian Open, “She’s really hungry, and she’s a good player, and she’s pretty aggressive, so I knew that I had to play really strong today.”
Williams also quickly turned her attention toward the upcoming showdown with Sharapova and said of her next opponent, via the Australian Open, “She had a really good win today, I really have nothing to lose we both are just doing the best that we can.”
Williams expanded on her analysis, per the Australian Open, “It'll be a good match, she [Sharapova] played a good game today. We'll have fun.”
It will be a rematch of last year’s Australian Open championship match, which Williams won in straight sets. If that happens again, the American superstar will certainly have fun.
Match stats via AusOpen.com.