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07 June 2023

I'm only here for one reason, Serena warns

US Serena Williams serves the ball to Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova during their women's first round match at the Roland Garros 2016 French Tennis Open in Paris on May 24, 2016. (AFP)


Serena Williams warned she is in Melbourne for one reason only Saturday as she accelerated towards a record 23rd Grand Slam title by ruthlessly banishing Nicole Gibbs at the Australian Open.

The second seed dispatched her fellow American 6-1, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena to reach the fourth round, further dispelling any lingering doubts about her early-season form.

It is the 14th time in her 17 Australian Opens she has made at least the last 16, and sets her up with a clash against 16th-seeded Czech Barbora Strycova, who beat French 21st seed Caroline Garcia.

If she gets through that, Johanna Konta or Ekaterina Makarova will be waiting in the quarter-finals.

"It was really good to get this under my belt," she said. "I always try to take everyone super-serious and I'm always super-focused.

"I have been doing the things I have been doing in practice, and hopefully I can build up on this. That's all I want to do."

Williams, looking to become the most decorated Grand Slam champion in the Open era, contested just eight events in an injury-shortened 2016, concluding with the US Open.

But any doubts about her form have been put to bed in Melbourne with three comfortable wins — including over former top-ten players Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova.

Strycova is her next hurdle in the hunt for a seventh Australian crown.

"I have seen her play a lot. She's always playing. Venus has played her a few times. I saw her play in Sydney. She's super fit. She has a good game. She's very aggressive," she said.

"Again, I don't have anything to prove in this tournament here. Just, you know, doing the best I can.

"Obviously I'm here for one reason. But at the end of the day, this is all bonus for me and I look forward to playing her. I'm ready for her."

No sweat for Serena

Strycova, who has never gone beyond the fourth round in Melbourne, said she was relishing the challenge.

"That's why you train. That's why you work hard, to play these matches on these stages and against the best one," she said.

Against Gibbs, Williams hardly got out of first gear, dictating terms from the opening game against a player ranked 92 who has never been past the third round at any major.

Gibbs, who was only two years old when Williams made her WTA debut in 1995, was overawed and broken in the fourth game, with the 35-year-old winning every net point she contested.

It was a leisurely work-out with Williams having an answer for everything Gibbs could give, breaking again to race through the set in just 26 minutes.

After her second round, Williams said she had been trying to channel positive thoughts on court as she targets a another Australian title, which would take her past Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 majors.

She cranked up the pressure in the second set, breaking Gibbs on a double fault to go 2-1 ahead.

Williams, who played her first match on Rod Laver Arena 19 years ago, was going through the motions but let her guard down briefly when serving for the match, allowing Gibbs to secure her first and only break.

It only delayed the inevitable, with Gibbs promptly broken for the fifth time as Williams drew her masterclass to a close.