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Josh Bairstow

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Australian Open: Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams progress to quarter-finals

Written by on 14/02/2021

Naomi Osaka saved two match points to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals, while seven-time champion Serena Williams resisted a stern challenge to progress in three sets.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Osaka fell a set and a break down to last year’s finalist Garbine Muguruza before she levelled the match and then faced two match points at 5-3 in the third.

But Osaka, seeded third in Melbourne, won four games in a row against her fellow former world No 1 to register a 4-6 6-4 7-5 win in the opening match of Sunday’s schedule on the Rod Laver Arena.

Williams then progressed after another high-quality encounter with fellow top-10 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who matched the American’s power from the baseline.

The 39-year-old, facing the Belarussian for the first time in her career, secured the first set with her first break of the match in the 10th game.

But Sabalenka, seeded three places higher, broke Williams’ serve three times in the second set to take the match the distance.

Williams then saw a 4-1 lead with a break of serve erased by the spirited and hard-hitting Sabalenka only for the former world No 1 to hold serve and then break her opponent’s serve for a fourth time to maintain her charge for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.

“I’m happy to get through that one,” Williams said. “It wasn’t easy and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. She was teeing off on every shot.

“Even the games that I lost were super close, one shot here and one shot there, and I just felt like, ‘Serena you’ve got this, you’ve just got to keep going.'”

Williams, who avoided any injury during a fall in the early part of the second set, will face two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep next.

Halep gained revenge for her French Open fourth-round defeat by Iga Swiatek with victory over the Polish teenager to reach the last eight.

Having lost the first set, the Romanian second seed controlled the second set as the unforced errors mounted up from the French Open champion.

The deciding set saw further fluctuations in momentum as both players traded early breaks of serve before Halep seized the initiative to lead 3-2 and the 2018 finalist held firm to see out a 3-6 6-1 6-4 victory.

Osaka, aiming for a fourth Grand Slam title and second at the Australian Open, will meet Hsieh Su-Wei in the quarter-finals.

The Taiwanese 35-year-old beat 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 6-2 to become the oldest player to make a Grand Slam quarter-final debut in the Open era.

Osaka, who was facing 14th seed Muguruza for the first time, said: “I feel like I was a bit intimidated because I knew that she was playing really well coming into this match.

“I feel like in the stressful points I just had to go within myself.”

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(c) Sky Sports 2021: Australian Open: Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams progress to quarter-finals