Six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams got her campaign off to a bright side in the first round. The second-seeded American will be one of the favourites to regain the title in Melbourne. World number one and defending champion Angelique Kerber has wobbled in her opening two matches, which makes the second seed marginally, the favourite for the title.
Williams' opponent on the other side of the net is Lucie Safarova. Incredibly, the former world number five saved nine match points in her first round match with Yanina Wickmayer. The 2015 French Open finalist missed last year's Australian Open due to illness, furthermore, the Czech is currently ranked at 62 in the world. Safarova's road to the top 32 will be a long one but if she continues to play consistent tennis, a rapid rise up the rankings is possible.
How they got here
The 22-time Grand Slam singles champion began her Australian Open campaign against former world number seven Belinda Bencic. The Switzerland native has struggled with injuries, towards the end of 2016 which has seen her fall down the rankings. Nevertheless, when the draw came out, it was one of the most anticipated first round matches. Williams eased fears of her form by defeating Bencic in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.
As aforementioned, Safarova was up against 2009 US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in the opening round. The former world number five struggled for form in 2016, due to illness, nonetheless, Safarova showed her fighting qualities by coming back from a set down, and saving nine match points in the process to book her spot in round two, defeating the Belgian, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1.
Williams and Safarova have met on nine occasions, and the six-time Australian Open champion has won all nine of their meetings. Six of their meetings have taken place on hard courts, and three on clay courts. The duo met twice in 2007 with Williams winning their first meeting in a three-set thriller on the hard courts in Hobart, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5), and in straight sets at the Miami Open, 6-3, 6-4.
Once again, Williams was triumphant on hard court in their next two consecutive meetings in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, 6-3, 6-2, and 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Their next two meetings would be on the green clay courts in Charleston, and the former world number one was victorious, 6-0, 6-1 in the final in 2012, and 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals, the following year. In the round of 16 stage in the Coupe Rogers in Montreal in 2014, the American defeated Safarova, 7-5, 6-4, and in three sets in Beijing, the same year. Their last meeting was in the final of the French Open, two years ago. Williams seemed likely to win the match in straight sets but an inspired Safarova fought back. Nevertheless, Williams hung on and won her third French Open title, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2, with a valiant performance by the Czech lefty, considering it was her first Grand Slam final appearance.
The former world number one has another tough test to pass, and she will be desperate to win another Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne. Williams played sublime tennis in her first round match with Bencic, and she knows that she will have to be playing at a high level against Safarova because the Czech is a tough opponent. Meanwhile, Williams' serve will need to be firing on all cylinders as Safarova is a fabulous returner.
Moreover, the world number 62's serve is also good when it is firing on all cylinders. However, Williams is a good returner, and her forehand and movement around the court are better than Safarova's. The Czech will need to try cut out the angles and making Williams' life miserable on the court, and try to play some dropshots to get the American off the baseline.
Williams has lost once in the second round stage, and it was to sister Venus in 1998 on her debut main Grand Slam singles appearance.
This is the first match scheduled for the evening session in the Rod Laver Arena at 7pm local time, and the winner of this match will play one of Williams' compatriots, Nicole Gibbs or Irina Falconi in the third round.
Prediction: Williams in straight sets