Ash Barty completed a great escape to stay alive at the Miami Open, where Simona Halep also progressed.

Barty faced a match point but the defending champion and world number one dug deep to prevail in three sets against Kristina Kucova on Thursday.

Romanian third seed Halep also needed three sets at the WTA Premier tournament in Miami.

 

BARTY PRODUCES COMEBACK

In her first match outside of Australia in more than 12 months, Barty survived to top qualifier Kucova in Miami.

Barty trailed 5-2 in the third set, with Kucova earning a match point at 5-3 but the Australian star saved it and won the final five games of the match to secure a spot in the round of 32.

Winner of the 2019 French Open, Barty sent down an equal career-high 15 aces in two-and-a-half hours.

"Today was really hard work, and I enjoyed every single minute of it," Barty said on court post-game. "There’s nothing like coming through a test like that, and now I get another opportunity in a couple days' time to play another tough match and test myself again."

Next up for Barty is 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, who outlasted Kirsten Flipkens 6-2 5-7 6-3.

 

HALEP REACHES MILESTONE

Halep brought up her 400th WTA main-draw triumph with a 3-6 6-4 6-0 victory over France's Caroline Garcia.

After dropping the opening set, Halep won 11 of the final 12 games to move through to the next round.

Halep won in one hour, 48 minutes, drastically improving on her first serve after the opening set while coming to grips with Garcia's kick serve.

"I needed time to get used to it and to get the rhythm," Halep said about Garcia's serve having improved her head-to-head record to 7-1, with Anastasija Sevastova awaiting in the last 32 after eliminating American sensation Coco Gauff.

Halep received attention on her shoulder early in the second. "I struggled with my serve," Halep said. "I struggled with my shoulder a little bit, so the attention was a little bit on the pain. [After that] I started to relax myself."

 

KERBER'S DOUBLE BAGEL

Three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber has been up and down in recently, but she flexed her muscles with a 6-0 6-0 humiliation of Renata Zarazua.

Aryna Sabalenka – the seventh seed – was another one to fend off match points before rallying 0-6 6-3 7-6 (11-9) past Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova in a gutsy.

Last year's French Open champion Iga Swiatek knocked off Barbora Krejcikova 6-4 6-2, while ninth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova got past Aliza Cornet 6-0 6-4.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina survived to beat Shelby Rogers 3-6 7-5 6-3 and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka benefited from a walkover.

Sloane Stephens ended her losing run to start the year with a hard-fought three-set win over France's Oceane Dodin in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday.

Former US Open champion Stephens, ranked 49th in the world, defeated Dodin 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-2.

Stephens progresses to the second round where the top seeds, including top three Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, will be introduced and she will face 28th seed Amanda Anisimova.

Danielle Collins, Wang Qiang, Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia were among the other winners on Wednesday, while Svetlana Kuznetsova bowed out.

 

SLOANE FIGHTBACK

Stephens had endured a dismal start to 2021, enduring an 0-4 win-loss record to begin the year.

The 28-year-old American was made to do it the hard way against Dodin on Wednesday, dropping the first set in a tie-break.

Stephens improved on her return in the second set, winning 73 per cent of points off Dodin's second serve before running away with the match in the last.

"It's been a rough one for me lately, so I'm really pleased to get through that, fight my way through it and make it happen somehow," Stephens said post-match.

FORMER MAJOR WINNER GONE

Two-time grand slam winner Kuznetsova was the major first-round casualty, going down 2-6 6-2 6-1 to France's Alize Cornet.

Kuznetsova, who is now ranked 35th in the world, bows out with Cornet to face ninth seed Petra Kvitova.

Collins got past France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-3 with the 40th-ranked American setting up a second-round clash with 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Wang, ranked 38th in the world, also progressed despite dropping a set in a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win over Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova.

SECOND-ROUND MATCH-UPS

The round of 64 will commence on Thursday, with third seed Halep to face Garcia who got past another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-2.

Top seed Barty will be in action against Slovakia's Kristina Kucova, while fourth seed Sofia Kenin will take on former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic.

Second seed Osaka has an assignment against 77th-ranked Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, while 14th seed Victoria Azarenka is already into the third round with opponent Laura Siegemund withdrawing after her win on Tuesday.

Serena Williams admitted it felt like stepping back in time as her movement and power came together to overwhelm Simona Halep at the Australian Open.

It had been just over 18 months since Halep destroyed Williams in the Wimbledon final, and with the American great approaching her 40th birthday, prospects of a 24th grand slam title have appeared to fade.

Into the conversation on Tuesday strolled a revitalised Williams, a woman who has been proving a point and defying expectation for coming up to a quarter of a century.

Williams is simply not having it that her days as a winner might be over, which is why she and coach Patrick Mouratoglou are always seeking marginal gains.

Dogged by an Achilles injury since the US Open last September, Williams feels over that, and a 6-3 6-3 quarter-final win over Halep attested to that being the case.

More than that, though, Williams noticed the years fall away as she dashed around the court, thumping groundstrokes with abundant power and often plenty of precision.

Speaking of the movement returning, Williams said: "It was something that Patrick and I did discuss. I just wasn't able to incorporate it as much as I would have liked to.

"But once I was able to get on the court, I was able to incorporate it as much as I could. Movement has always been one of my strengths, and so it's actually more natural for me to move than for me not. So it was just kind of, like, 'Oh, that's how I used to move', so it's pretty good.

"I'm happy that I'm doing that again and that I put it back into my game. I think I was more focused on other things and not focused on something that is actually a strength of mine, has always been a strength of mine, and I had to refocus on that."

She faces Naomi Osaka next for a place in the final. It reads like a match-up of an all-time great against a player who could over time join her in that pantheon.

Osaka is pursuing a fourth grand slam title, while Williams wants the 24th as much as she craved the first, given it would move her alongside Margaret Court at the top of the all-time list.

The veteran American's most recent slam title came while pregnant in Australia four years ago, with Williams dealt four final defeats since, including a notable one to Osaka at the 2018 US Open.

If Osaka was watching Williams on Tuesday, as she surely was, the Japanese player could have only been impressed.

When asked about how she was matching and often out-matching Halep even in the longest rallies, Williams paused to consider when she was last able to boss such exchanges.

"It's definitely been a minute. It's been a long minute," she said with a smile. "I think 19... 1926, the summer of 1926 I think was the last time I felt that.

"But I'm good at rallying and I have to embrace the things I'm good at. I'm good at playing power, I'm good at hitting a hundred balls.

"That's one thing that's unique about me that I just need to kind of accept and embrace and just be good at both."

Williams and Osaka may have a crowd on Thursday for the semi-final, or they may not. Melbourne remains in lockdown but spectators could be back on Rod Laver Arena for the clash of two of the sport's biggest personalities.

Addressing that prospect, Williams indicated she would have mixed emotions.

"I love having the people there, obviously. But at the same time, it's kind of nice to not have, like ... more pressure when there is people in the stands," Williams said.

"So I think either way it's really a win-win situation. That's kind of how I look at it."

Fast-footed on the court, quick to sidestep off it, Williams is convinced she can push Osaka hard, perhaps heartened by a narrow win when they met in an exhibition match in Adelaide last month.

"I've got to keep going. Obviously I have an incredible opponent to play, so it would be nice to hopefully keep raising the level of my game. I'm going to have to," Williams said.

Halep said Williams "was stronger in the important moments", and she too noticed her opponent showing something near vintage form.

"Yeah, she's moving better and she hits strong," Halep added. "I feel like she's in a good shape now. She has a really good game. Always did..."

Serena Williams is in the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time since she last won a grand slam title, beating Simona Halep to set up a mouthwatering clash with Naomi Osaka.

The American great gained revenge for her Wimbledon final defeat to the Romanian two seasons ago as she conjured a 6-3 6-3 win on Rod Laver Arena.

Halep dropped just four games in that stunning grass-court success in 2019, the third of four grand slam finals that Williams has lost since landing her 23rd major in Australia four years ago.

The 24th title has remained frustratingly elusive, with Williams one away from matching Margaret Court's record haul, but perhaps this is the week where that changes.

She must get past Osaka, her heir apparent as the figurehead for the women's game, but Williams showed her prowess in this match, devastatingly proving a point.

Her power won out, with 24 winners to just nine from Halep, although the 33 unforced errors from Williams showed there is room for improvement in precision.

The tone was set from the first point, Williams with a brilliant forehand service return winner on the forehand side on her way to an immediate break of serve.

Halep forced her way level but Williams raised the tempo in the sixth game and a deep forehand into the Romanian's backhand corner secured a 4-2 advantage.

Williams served out the set to love at the first opportunity but then dipped early in the second set, Halep pinching a break when the American volleyed waywardly at the net.

What proved a consistent theme was Halep's struggle to hit through her opponent, and the two-time grand slam winner could not capitalise on a 3-1 lead in that second set, dropping five successive games as the 39-year-old Williams began to turn on some vintage form.

Dismissive of the often weak Halep serve, Williams swept through to the clash with Osaka.

"I definitely think this was the best match I've played this tournament for sure," Williams said. "I had to, going up against the number two in the world. I knew I had to do better and that's what I did, so I'm excited."

Looking forward to facing Osaka, Williams said in her on-court interview: "She's such a strong player on the court and such an inspirational person off the court, which I think is really cool. I've been watching her and I'm sure she's been watching me."

Former world number one Naomi Osaka is unfazed about her record at grand slams as she eyes consistency after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals.

Osaka will face either 23-time slam champion Serena Williams or Simona Halep in the semis following Tuesday's emphatic 6-2 6-2 win over Hsieh Su-wei in Melbourne.

Three-time major winner Osaka has gone on to win the title each time she has reached the quarter-finals of a slam – beating Hsieh en route to her 2019 Australian Open triumph.

Asked about the record, Osaka told reporters: "I don't really care about the stat. Just because I've only been to four quarter-finals.

"It feels something like 20. That would be cool. But four, it's not really doing too much for me.

"I would be more impressed if I didn't lose in finals. If it says 10-0 in finals. But the fact is if I don't reach the finals, I lose in the fourth round or the third round.

"For me, I'm happy to be more consistent. I think I'm being more consistent since New York, so that's the ultimate goal for me."

Osaka – in the midst of a 19-match winning streak – overpowered veteran Hsieh on Rod Laver Arena, where the Japanese star hit 24 winners and just 14 unforced errors, while she lost just two of her 25 first-service points.

It does not get any easier for Osaka, with record-chasing Williams or two-time slam champion Halep standing in the way of a trip to Saturday's decider at Melbourne Park.

"I played both of them before I think multiple times," Osaka – confident after saving two match points against Garbine Muguruza in the last 16 – said.

"Halep, I don't really like playing her. She's someone that's really tough, someone that gets the ball back every time. For me it's definitely a mental and physical battle.

"Of course, the same goes for Serena. She's Serena, someone that I feel really intimidated when I see her on the other side of the court."

Simona Halep set up a quarter-final duel with Serena Williams after showing admirable character to battle back from a set down to beat Iga Swiatek 3-6 6-1 6-4 and seal her 100th grand slam match win.

Halep and Swiatek put on a thrilling show in the night session on Sunday, as the Romanian two-time grand slam champion demonstrated her fighting spirit to come from a set down and reach the last eight.

Swiatek took charge in the first set after saving the first two break points of the contest, eventually putting herself in a commanding position as she won the 10 of the final 11 points of the set, but Halep remained focused as her 19-year-old opponent began to wobble in the second.

Halep then snuffed out any threat of a turnaround by breaking back straight after losing on her own service in the decider and she went on to set up a meeting with Williams, who had overpowered Aryna Sabalenka earlier in the day.

Naomi Osaka also advanced, though she was by no means comfortable, while Hsieh Su-wei beat Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets.

HALEP'S REVENGE

Halep's clash with Swiatek was their first since the French Open last October, when Swiatek ran out a 6-1 6-2 winner and went on to claim her maiden major title.

Revenge was on the cards at Melbourne Park and Halep got the job done impressively, showing her mettle to return from a set down.

"Well, I thought before the match that I have to be a little bit more aggressive than Paris. In Paris I have been very far back, and my ball didn't go through the court," the second seed said. "So, I thought that it's a better chance to go and hit.

"The pressure came from the way I played the last match against her. I just expected a better game from myself, which I did, and I'm really happy about that."

Halep accepts facing Williams will be an entirely different challenge, but she remains confident despite lauding the American a "legend" in her on-court interview.

"Of course it's different, she's the only one with 23 grand slams, so you cannot compare Serena with all of us, because we do not have so many grand slams," Halep added.

"But when I step on the court, it's just another opponent, and always I'm focused on myself more than I focus on who I play. We played so many times. I know what to expect. I will just try to do my game, and I will be confident."

WILLIAMS ON COURSE

All eyes are on Williams yet again, as she hopes to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 grand slam titles – and on the evidence of her latest win, she will take some stopping as she won 6-4 2-6 6-4.

Williams revealed she had to cope with a little off-court stress this week with her clothing line, and Sabalenka certainly kept the pressure up as the 22-year-old took the second set.

But Williams responded well to the seventh seed, who became the first player to take a set off the former world number one. Williams said she remained confident despite that setback.

"Like I said on the court, I just felt like even games that I lost, I was so close to winning. Not all games, but probably most of those games," she said. "I just needed to play better on the big points.  I knew that I could. I still hadn't reached my peak. I was like, 'Okay, Serena, you got this, just keep going.'"

OSAKA RELEASES HER ANGER

Osaka was in a real spot of bother against Garbine Muguruza, but saved two match points.

The 2019 champion Osaka steadied herself and felt more composed after a brief show of frustration, as she struck the ground with her racquet.

Ultimately, she emerged a 4-6 6-4 7-5 victor, and Osaka felt letting frustration get the better of her for a moment helped her cause.

"On the first match point, I was just thinking that I didn't hit a decent serve that entire game, so I should really focus on my serve," he said. "I feel like my serve stats were pretty good that set, so I was just telling myself to do better.

"Then on the second point, when the rally started, I just told myself not to push [the ball] but also don't do something crazy and make a really bad unforced error. I felt the entire match I was overthinking. There was a moment when I got angry and hit my racquet on the ground. I feel like I released a lot of the thoughts that I had. It just made me go more into instinct-based tennis."

She will face Hsieh next, the world number 71 having beaten Vondrousova – ranked 51 places higher – 6-4 6-2.

Naomi Osaka and Garbine Muguruza set up a blockbuster clash at the Australian Open, while Aryna Sabalenka cannot wait to face Serena Williams.

As Williams was tested before winning through, Osaka and Muguruza raced through their third-round outings in Melbourne on Friday.

Osaka and Muguruza dropped just seven games between them to set up what will be their first meeting, which will take place without fans in attendance as Victoria prepares to move into a five-day lockdown beginning on Saturday due to coronavirus concerns.

Sabalenka also progressed and will next face Williams, while Simona Halep cruised through.

 

OSAKA, MUGURUZA STORM THROUGH

Osaka, the three-time grand slam champion, brushed past fellow seed Ons Jabeur 6-3 6-2 in the third round.

The Japanese star, winner of the Australian Open in 2019, is looking forward to facing fellow major champion Muguruza.

"I've practised with her once, but it was on grass, and I was younger. It was maybe like a couple years ago," Osaka said.

"But I just remember being really impressed by her, and for me, I've watched her win Wimbledon and win the French Open when I was younger, and I've always wanted to have the chance to play her. So for me, this is really exciting."

A finalist at the Yarra Valley Classic last week, Muguruza's strong start to the Australian Open continued with a 6-1 6-1 thrashing of Zarina Diyas.

"I don't think we've played each other before. Just looking forward for a fourth round, a good fourth round, playing the top players," Muguruza – who has lost just 10 games in the first three rounds – said ahead of facing Osaka. "I feel like that's always the right way, you know, a good sign. Just expecting a good match."

 

JOB DONE FOR SERENA

Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title remains on track after overcoming Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

In her 101st Australian Open match, Williams secured her 90th career victory in Melbourne. The 39-year-old also improved her overall slam record to 360-51 – Martina Navratilova (306-49) is the only other player to pass 300 wins in the Open Era.

Next up for Williams is Sabalenka, who was too good for Ann Li, winning 6-3 6-1 to reach a major fourth round for just the second time in her career and first in Melbourne.

The Belarusian seventh seed is not daunted by the task facing her when she meets the American for the first time.

"I want to get this thrill. Can I say thrill? I said it right. So it's going to be a thrill. But, yeah. I'm going to do everything I can," Sabalenka said.

 

HALEP THROUGH AS SEEDS CRUISE

Halep reached the fourth round in Melbourne for the sixth time with a convincing 6-1 6-3 win over Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Awaiting the two-time major winner in the fourth round is Iga Swiatek after the Polish 15th seed got past Fiona Ferro 6-4 6-3.

Swiatek thrashed Halep 6-1 6-2 on her way to the French Open title last year.

Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time after beating Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-4.

Up next for the Czech 19th seed is Hsieh Su-wei, who battled past Sara Errani 6-4 2-6 7-5 after two hours and 44 minutes.

Errani had won her previous three meetings with Hsieh in straight sets, including winning a set 6-0 - known as a 'bagel' in tennis parlance - in each of those victories.

It meant Hsieh, 35, had a simple plan against the Italian.

"I don't remember when I lose to someone but someone reminded me I eat the bagel every time so I said, 'Okay, I will try to not take any bagel today'," she said.

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka sizzled in the scorching Melbourne heat on day three of the Australian Open. 

Williams, aiming once more for a record-equalling 24th singles grand slam, made serene progress from round two on what was the hottest day of the tournament so far. 

It was a similar story for Osaka, who is aiming to become a two-time champion at Melbourne Park, but Simona Halep had to dig deep while Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova were early casualties on Wednesday.


PLAIN SAILING FOR SERENA AND OSAKA

Williams' perfect start to the season extended to 5-0 as she swatted aside Nina Stojanovic 6-3 6-0 to set up a round-three meeting with Anastasia Potapova – the same opponent she overcame in Melbourne in the first round a year ago. 

The seven-time Australian Open champion is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the Russian. 

"It's always a fun, interesting match [against Potapova]. I'm gonna go home, get ready and just do the best," she said.  

"We're all out here to have fun and I'm happy to be out here, and just to be playing in front of crowd again is really cool. So every day is just fun." 

Osaka, the current US Open champion and the winner in Melbourne two years ago, hammered former world number four Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena in the evening session. 

The Japanese star is set to face her friend Ons Jabeur for the first time in an official match in round three. 

"She's really funny," Osaka said of her next opponent. "I don't know if you guys watch any of her interviews. I think she is really funny and nice.  

"I think the match I am going to play against her will be really difficult, but I'm looking forward to it." 


HALEP SURVIVES TOMLJANOVIC TEST

In contrast to Williams and Osaka's comfortable wins, second seed Halep was taken to the brink by home favourite Ajla Tomljanovic, who won the first set and was serving for the match in the third. 

However, 2018 finalist Halep broke back when trailing 5-4 in the decider and battled through with a 4-6 6-4 7-5 victory in a match that saw a combined 94 unforced errors (57 for Tomljanovic, 37 for Halep). 

"I was expecting that she would play very hard and very strong. I expected it to be a difficult match, but it was more than I thought. But I'm really happy that I can smile now," Halep said.  

"I was not that positive when I was talking to myself. I didn't talk about the score, I was just blaming myself, that I'm not strong enough to win against her. But in the end mentally I was maybe a bit stronger than her, and I didn't want to give up." 

Last year's losing finalist Garbine Muguruza (14) was too good for Ludmilla Samsonova in a 6-3 6-1 win, while French Open champion Iga Swiatek (15) dispatched Camila Giorgi 6-2 6-4. 

Aryna Sabalenka (7), Marketa Vondrousova (19) and Veronika Kudermetova (32) all made it through, but fellow seed Elena Rybakina (17) was beaten in straight sets by Fiona Ferro.


EARLY EXITS FOR ANDREESCU AND KVITOVA

Andreescu became the latest scalp for veteran Hsieh Su-Wei, who earned a commanding 6-3 6-2 victory and is now 4-3 against top-10 players in the slams since 2017. 

Eighth seed Andreescu won the US Open in 2019 but missed the entirety of last year with a knee injury, while her preparation here was disrupted by spending 14 days in quarantine after her coach tested positive for coronavirus. 

"After my first round, I thought I would feel more exhausted, but I felt amazing. Also, today the weather was a bit tricky. Being in the heart of quarantine I could have had those extra two weeks of like being in the heat and getting used to sweating and all of that," she said. 

Next up for Hsieh is Sara Errani, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1 6-0. The veteran American rolled her ankle towards the end of the first set and, despite needing two medical timeouts, valiantly saw out the match. 

Kvitova was a runner-up to Osaka in 2019 and appeared on course to recovery after dominating the second set against Sorana Cirstea. 

But amid sweltering conditions, the Czech ninth seed went on to lose the decider. 

"It was quite a rollercoaster, for sure," she said. "Unfortunately I couldn't take the chances to win the first set.  

"I think that was really the key of the match. She really had a great day today; she played a good game. I didn't really bring the best tennis today. It's really hurting."

Naomi Osaka said she was "really nervous" before facing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but showed no signs of that as she breezed into the second round of the Australian Open.

Osaka looked dominant on day one of the first grand slam of the year as she welcomed being able to play in front of a crowd at Melbourne Park, taking only 68 minutes to wrap up a 6-1 6-2 victory.

The US Open champion has beaten Pavlyuchenkova three times in a row after losing when they first met in 2017 but was wary of facing the Russian on Rod Laver Arena.

Third seed Osaka said: "I was really nervous coming into this match. I know that I've played her before, and it was really tough. I just wanted to play well.

"The most recent memory I have of playing her was in the Osaka final [that Osaka won 6-2 6-3 in 2019], so it's always really hard to play someone that good in the first round.

"For me, I feel like it might have also helped in a way because I calmed my nerves because I felt like I couldn't afford to be that nervous. But, yeah, it was a tough match."

Serena Williams and Simona Halep stormed into round two, but the 2016 champion Angelique Kerber crashed out with a 6-0 6-4 defeat to world number 63 Bernarda Pera.

Alison Riske and Wang Qiang were the only other seeds to fall, losing to teenager Anastasia Potapova and qualifier Sara Errani respectively, while Bianca Andreescu made a winning comeback.

 

Williams sisters among major winners to make serene progress

Serena Williams did not look at all troubled by a shoulder problem as she started her latest quest to win a record-equalling 24th major singles title with a 6-1 6-1 demolition of Laura Siegemund.

Her older sister, Venus, also advanced in straight sets, beating Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2.

Iga Swiatek, the French Open champion, was too good for Arantxa Rus, winning 6-1 6-3, and Petra Kvitova got past Greet Minnen 6-3 6-4.

Kerber will not be claiming a fourth major crown this month after falling to Croatia-born American Pera.

 

Halep planning to oust another Australian

Two-time major winner Halep was a cut above Lizette Cabrera, winning 6-2 6-1 in 59 minutes, and is looking forward to facing another Australia in the second round in the form of Ajla Tomljanovic. 

"I like to be here, so I like to play Australians," Halep quipped.

"I feel good. My body is fit. It's always difficult to play a big hitter. So, I have to be strong on my legs, focus on myself and give my best.

"I expected a tough match because I played against her before and I know how it's gonna be. She's a good opponent, a good player, and I will focus just on myself like I do every time, but I'm ready for a good battle."

Andreescu back in business

Andreescu put her injury woes behind her, battling past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 in her first match for 15 months.

The Canadian had not played in a grand slam since winning the US Open in 2019 but was back in business on John Cain Arena.

Eighth seed Andreescu said: "After the match, I sat down with my team a little bit, and I'm like, 'Oh, guys, here we go again, those three-setters' and they just started laughing because they obviously knew what they were getting themselves into.

"But those matches are super good for me in my opinion because it really shows that I can scramble when I really need to, or if there's some pressure I can dig my way through it somehow. When my back is against the wall, not only today, but I've noticed throughout my last couple tournaments in 2019, I've been able to pull through with those."

One in eight women in the Australian Open draw have already won a grand slam title.

One in eight. It is staggering that of the 128 players who set out in the hope of singles glory at Melbourne Park, there are 16 major champions among them, and perhaps never has it been so difficult to predict who will carry off the title.

Compare it to the men's draw, where there are just five grand slam singles winners, and where you would struggle to make a compelling case for any more than three of those this year, with apologies to Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.

As long-running dynasties near their end on the men's and women's tours, the WTA is a lengthy step ahead of the ATP with a cast of appealing characters already assuming leading roles.

The leader of the pack

Three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka is at the forefront of a school of rising stars, but she has impressive rivals for company.

The last four years have seen the 15 women's majors won by 12 different players, whereas in the men's game, Rafael Nadal (6), Novak Djokovic (5), Roger Federer (3) and Dominic Thiem (1) have creamed off all the top prizes in the same period.

Often criticised in the past for a perceived lack of depth, in the years when Serena Williams won seemingly at will, the women's tour has exploded with a rush of bright and young talent.

Osaka is a revelation and a leader, on and off the court. Twice a US Open champion now, and a winner in Australia two years ago, the 23-year-old Japanese star took a powerful stance for racial equality at Flushing Meadows back in September, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests. She wants to achieve even more off the court than on it, where she looks assured of one day leaving an impressive legacy.

If there is any area where Osaka's game falls down it is consistency. She has surprisingly not passed the fourth round in 14 of her 17 grand slam appearances, but on every occasion she has gone beyond that stage it has been en route to lifting a trophy.

In hot pursuit

Last year's three slam champions were, at the times of their triumphs, just 21 (Sofia Kenin - Australian Open), 19 (Iga Swiatek - French Open) and 22 (Osaka - US Open).

The women's game has not seen anything comparable in terms of youthful winners of its blue riband tournaments since 2004, when the 21-year-old Justine Henin won in Australia, Anastasia Myskina landed the Roland Garros title at 22, Maria Sharapova was a 17-year-old bolter to Wimbledon glory and 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova scored a stunning Flushing Meadows victory.

Last year does not touch the 1997 season, when a 16-year-old Martina Hingis won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, denied a grand slam clean sweep by 19-year-old Iva Majoli's shock French Open final win over the Swiss.

But women's tennis is still seeing a remarkable shift to relative youth.

The 2019 season saw a then 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu scoop a stunning US Open win, while Ash Barty took the French Open.

Andreescu has been sidelined with a knee injury since the 2019 WTA Finals, but she is back for Australia, where Queenslander Barty, now 24, is the home hero.

Brace for the prospect of Andreescu and Barty joining Kenin, Swiatek and Osaka in a group of five who can take the women's game boldly into the post-Williams era.

But the Williams era isn't over

This is true, and again Serena will make another attempt to land that elusive 24th grand slam, the one that would move her level with Margaret Court on the all-time list.

She remains, at the age of 39, a magnificent competitor and a beguiling player, as does sister Venus, who turns 41 in June.

Serena has lost her last four grand slam finals, however, and the most recent run to a title match came almost 18 months ago in New York, where Andreescu had her number.

As the new gang of five threaten to pull away from the old establishment, perhaps Williams is now in the next group, along with the likes of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova: still perfectly capable of winning another slam or even multiple slams, but it feels important to strike now.

Serena has not won any of her last 10 slams, making it the longest span in her professional career without winning a major.

Barty party, or Sofia the second?

Osaka begins the Australian Open as favourite with bookmakers, but world number one Barty will have home support and could make that count. How she performs will be keenly watched, given she chose not to travel once the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, sitting out 11 months.

Should Barty get on a roll, hopes will be high she can become the first Australian woman to take the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978. Last year, Barty fell in the semi-finals to Kenin, and she will be eager to land a second slam title.

Kenin, whose intense concentration and steely resolve helped her pull off last year's shock Melbourne win, and follow up with a run to the French Open final, can be a match for anyone. She will be aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

Success on this level has come perhaps ahead of schedule for the American, and the same can be said for Swiatek, whose demolition of the field at Roland Garros in October made a mockery of her being ranked number 53 in the world.

The teenage Polish player became her country's first grand slam singles champion, and with that status comes the expectation she will follow it up. How that turns out for her will be one of the most intriguing of sub-plots in the new season.

Changing priorities

Halep said in a recent WTA interview that winning an Olympic medal was her "main goal" for 2021, although Osaka will also have the Tokyo Games firmly circled in her diary.

For the likes of those other players among the 16 slam winners in the Melbourne draw, there will be differing targets this year, too.

Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and particularly Garbine Muguruza may yet come good again on the big stage at some point this season.

For Venus Williams, Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur, it may be a case of one final hurrah.

As the likes of Coco Gauff emerge as potential future big-stage winners, and fledgling ambassadors, the women's game looks in safe hands.

Serena Williams and Simona Halep started the season with straight-sets victories in Melbourne a week before the Australian Open gets under way.

Williams and Halep played in an exhibition event with a crowd of 4,000 watching on in Adelaide last Friday and they were back in competitive action three days later.

Legendary American Williams beat Daria Gavrilova 6-1 6-4 to move into the third round of the Yarra Valley Classic.

The fifth seed struck 27 winners to 15 unforced errors on Margaret Court Arena as she set up a meeting with Tsvetana Pironkova, who ousted Donna Vekic 1-6 6-4 6-2.

Williams said: "It was a good match for me. It wasn't easy at all. It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she's from here, so she obviously always plays hard. So it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end."

Third seed Karolina Pliskova, Petra Martic, Danielle Collins and Marketa Vondrousova also advanced to the last 16 on Monday.

Elsewhere, top seed Halep is through to the third round of the Gippsland Trophy following a 6-4 6-4 win over Anastasia Potapova.

Halep hit 23 winners and broke twice in each set in what was her first official match since October.

Elina Svitolina, the third seed, beat Andrea Petkovic 6-1 6-4, while Coco Gauff, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Jelena Ostapenko were among the other winners seven days prior to the start of the first grand slam of 2021.

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