Melbourne (AFP) – World number one Serena Williams set a new record of 61 Australian Open wins on Friday as she scorched into the fourth round — and warned she plans to get even better.
The American top seed used her powerful serve to good effect as she raced past experienced Slovak Daniela Hantuchova on another hot Melbourne day, 6-3, 6-3 in 80 minutes.
Williams, bidding for a sixth Australian Open crown, now faces either former world number one Ana Ivanovic or 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur for a place in the quarter-finals.
“It was a tough match. Daniela is a great opponent so I’m really happy to come out with the win,” said Williams.
“It was hot but you have to play, you have to be ready and prepare yourself mentally. I’m excited to get through.”
Hantuchova, ranked 33, was never going to be an easy opponent and she had her chances with six break points. But Williams fired down aces at crucial times, with eight in the first set alone.
The victory set a new landmark for the American veteran, who is gunning to match the achievement of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in winning her 18th Grand Slam.
Beating Hantuchova was her 61st win at the Australian Open, surpassing the previous record set by Margaret Court.
Asked which had been her favorite matches, she replied: “All the finals I was able to win.”
Williams, who made her Australian Open debut in 1998, also drew alongside Open-era record-holder Lindsay Davenport in playing 69 singles matches at Melbourne Park.
With a career-best 11 titles last year, the 32-year-old appears to be getting better with age and she has no plans to slow down.
“I feel like in life 32 is young, you know. In sports it’s old. But for whatever reason, I feel like I just never was really able to reach my full potential, and I feel like recently I just have been able to do a little better,” she said.
“I just keep trying to improve on everything.”
The morning match got under away with the temperature already touching 96.8 Fahrenheit, with Williams and Hantuchova both holding serve as they acclimatized on Rod Laver Arena.
The Slovak had two break points on Williams’ next serve but the American delivered a net volley then blasted two aces to ensure she held.
As she got into her stride, Williams’ ball-striking and placement was improving and she scored the break she wanted in the sixth game to take charge.
Hantuchova had a break point in the seventh but again Williams’ powerful serve came to the rescue as she held for 5-2.
The Slovak held serve with a sizzling backhand down the line and she kept applying the pressure to again have two break points as Williams was serving for the set.
But the world’s top player saved both, hitting another two aces before forcing a backhand error from Hantuchova to take the set in 38 minutes.
She was in control and Hantuchova was flagging, with a series of unforced errors handing Williams an early break in the second to go 1-0 in front.
The Slovak rallied and a forehand down the line ensured she broke to love in the sixth game, only for the focused Williams to bounce straight back and win three games in a row to take the match.
Photo: Saeed Khan via AFP