Serena Williams Outlasts Anastasia Potapova, Advances at 2021 Australian Open

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2021

United States' Serena Williams reacts after winning the first set against Russia's Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Serena Williams is one step closer to her 24th career Grand Slam title.

Williams, who is the No. 10 seed, defeated Anastasia Potapova in straight sets in the third round of the 2021 Australian Open on Thursday at Rod Laver Arena 7-6(5), 6-2.

The start of the match was closer than expected considering the only other matchup between the two came in last year's edition of this very tournament when the seven-time Australian Open champion cruised to a straight-sets victory.

That the fact Serena hasn't won the Australian Open since 2017 is considered somewhat of a slump by her astronomically-high standards underscores the difference in resumes between the two players.

Potapova, 19, has never won a singles title nor advanced past the round of 64 in any Grand Slam tournament. She lost in the round of 64 in the 2019 Australian Open and the round of 128 in last year's edition when she faced Williams.

However, she wasted no time seizing early control against the legend Thursday and won the first five points of the match and earned the first break to go up 4-2. While Williams broke back to make it 4-3, Potapova responded with another break to go up 5-3.

#AusOpen @AustralianOpen

🔥 @nastiaapotapova is fired UP! The Russian teen breaks Williams for a 4-2 lead. #AusOpen | #AO2021 https://t.co/1n66xXIvey

That's when things started to slip away for the challenger.

She double-faulted five times in one game while serving for the set, perhaps hinting at the nerves that come with playing against someone of Williams' stature. It was a relatively ugly set with unforced errors and crucial mistakes on both sides, but the 23-time Grand Slam champion managed to pull it out in a tiebreaker.

Christopher Clarey @christophclarey

Latest proof that tennis is a mental game. Potapova serving for the 1st set at 5-3 against the great Serena Williams just hit FIVE double faults to lose her serve. She had one until then. Plenty of twists left in this match https://t.co/AgegJHoYQl

#AusOpen @AustralianOpen

Potapova laid down the challenge and Serena accepted it 🤜🤛 @serenawilliams wins the tiebreak to take the first set 7-6 👑 #AusOpen | #AO2021 https://t.co/xPvedwJYdo

It appeared as if the second set would be much of the same back-and-forth when Potapova earned a break in the opening game, but Serena responded with multiple breaks and gradually pulled away. It is a testament to her greatness that she was far from her best Thursday and still won in straight sets.

In all, Williams survived 31 unforced errors and a slow start behind nine aces and timely rallies. It also helped that Potapova failed to take advantage of a number of golden opportunities, many of which came in the opening set.

Next up for the seven-time champion will be quite a challenge in the fourth round against the seventh-seeded Aryna Sabalenka. It will be the first matchup between the two players.