Serena Williams vs. Lucie Safarova: Score and Reaction from 2017 Australian Open

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2017

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova during their women's singles second round match on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 19, 2017. / AFP / PAUL CROCK / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE        (Photo credit should read PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)
PAUL CROCK/Getty Images

Serena Williams defeated Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4 and advanced to the third round of the 2017 Australian Open on Thursday following a serving masterclass at the Rod Laver Arena.

Both Williams and Safarova showed superb form from the baseline, but it was the former who ultimately stood tall and hit the mark with 64 per cent of her first serves, per the IBM SlamTracker.

That aspect of her performance laid the groundwork for a second-round victory over her Czech opponent and gave Williams the tools to clinch a sixth successive appearance in the third round of the Australian Open, tying her personal record.

WTA Insider agreed Safarova provided a stiff challenge for Williams despite wilting at several key junctures, and the American will now face compatriot Nicole Gibbs in the third round of the tournament:

Both Williams and Safarova gave a fine demonstration of their serving abilities from the beginning of Thursday's meeting and exchanged the upper hand early in the opening set, with Williams edging ahead 3-2 after five games.

Safarova was in desperate need of a maiden upset against the American, too, after the Australian Open Twitter account illustrated her one-sided record with Williams—and not in a good way:

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Williams saved three critical break points in the fifth game, and it paid dividends not long after as she was rewarded with a break of her own. Responding from 0-30 down, the No. 2 seed succeeded with her second shot at break point and punished Safarova with a powerful backhand off a weak second serve to lead 5-3.

The 35-year-old has a habit of patiently keeping her opponents in touch before timing her breaks with aplomb, and the New York Times' Ben Rothenberg suggested similar was coming to fruition on Thursday:

The second set bubbled away in near-identical fashion to the first, with Safarova again holding her own at the serve and even boasting a better first-serve success rate than her foe for patches.

But Williams combined accuracy with phenomenal power, and Safarova gifted her a route to another break after committing back-to-back errors in the seventh game, quickly falling from 30-15 leader to trail 30-40. Three errors in quick succession saw Safarova concede her second break to fall behind at 4-3, and again the momentum swung in Williams' favour.

The six-time Australian Open champion closed within match point after noticeably upping her aggression levels near the match's climax, and despite Safarova closing the gap to one game at 5-4 down, it seemed impossible to complete a comeback.

An indomitable backhand and more errors from Safarova saw Williams close on victory, and the Czech finally crumbled with an overpowered forehand after a long rally, while the American sealed her triumph and improved her record further: 

One potential roadblock moved out of Williams' way on Thursday, as No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska was sent packing from the Australian Open following a 6-3, 6-2 defeat to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

Williams now moves on to the third round and will duel against American compatriot Gibbs, with either No. 21 seed Caroline Garcia or 16th seed Barbora Strycova waiting in the fourth round.