Serena Williams overcame a shaky start to book an Australian Open fourth-round berth at Melbourne Park, while Ash Barty withdrew from the doubles competition amid concerns the world No 1’s thigh strain is more serious than she is letting on.
Seven-times champion Williams had to recover from 5-3 down and save two set points in the first set before recording a 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory over the former Wimbledon junior champion on Friday.
Potapova served for the opening set at 5-3 only to cough up two double faults to invite Williams back in. The 19-year-old then led 5-3 in the tiebreaker before losing four points in a row to concede the set and match momentum.
Potapova took an injury time-out while trailing 4-1 in the second set, but it couldn’t stop Williams from advancing after an hour and 37 minutes to the last 16 in Melbourne for a mind-boggling 16th time.
“It definitely feels good to be in the fourth round and it’s so good to get through that match,” the 10th seed said. “I felt like I came out not off to the starting blocks like I would have wanted to and like I have been since I’ve been playing here. But it’s about surviving and playing better every round.
Bidding for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles crown, the 39-year-old American will take on in-form seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus on Sunday for a quarter-final spot.
Barty and American Jennifer Brady were scheduled to play Sabalenka and Elise Mertens in the second round on Friday but handed the second seeds a walkover.
Australia’s singles top seed raised eyebrows when she had her left thigh heavily strapped during Thursday’s 6-1, 7-6 (9-7) second-round win over Fed Cup teammate Daria Gavrilova.
But the 24-year-old played down the injury, with Team Barty on Friday saying it was merely “muscle soreness” after a gruelling schedule of seven matches in less than a fortnight following almost a year-long layoff.
“The bandage is very big, but that’s more just support so that the tape itself doesn’t fall off,” Barty said ahead of her third-round clash with 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova on Saturday.
It’s not a very subtle tape job. You often see it on a lot of the girls. The guys can hide it beneath their shorts a little bit better. Just a little bit of support. I played a lot of matches in the last 10 days after not playing for 12 months, which is natural. It’s more of an assistance than anything else.”
Barty said she first felt the niggle while warming up for Tuesday’s first round.
“But, yeah, obviously it’s not affecting the way that I can play in any way,” she said. “It’s just more giving the leg some assistance to make sure it doesn’t get to a point where it’s going to affect me.”
Japanese powerhouse Naomi Osaka joined Williams in the fourth round after sweeping Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in straight sets. Osaka, the 2019 champion, will meet 2020 finalist Garbiñe Murguruza in the first heavyweight clash of the Open, with neither multiple major winner dropping a set en route to the last 16 at Melbourne Park.
Murguruza, the 14th seed, stormed past Zarina Diyas of Kazahkstan 6-1, 6-1 and has dropped only 10 games all tournament.
Earlier, Sabalenka and Czech Markéta Vondroušová became the first players through to the fourth round after making short work of their opponents.
Sabalenka, the seventh seed, was in charge on Rod Laver Arena from the first serve, winning 6-3, 6-1, while 19th-ranked Vondrousova had a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
Sabalenka has never previously made it past the third round at Melbourne Park and only reached the final 16 once at a grand slam tournament – the US Open in 2018.
But she comes into the tournament in stellar form, winning 18 of her past 19 matches. The big-hitting 22-year-old won the WTA 500 title in Abu Dhabi last month, which was her third straight title.
Vondrousova’s best performance at the majors came at the 2019 French Open, when she was beaten in the final by Barty. She had never previously made it past the second round in Melbourne. The 21-year-old will play either Italian Sara Errani or Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan in the fourth round.