Six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams continues to cruise through the draw as she looks to win an Open Era record of 23 Grand Slam titles. The second seed will be competing in the second week of the Australian Open for the 14th time in her career. Historically, the former world number one is difficult to beat in the latter stages of Slams, especially at the Australian Open. Williams will be competing in the second week for the 10th consecutive year (missed 2011), and she will be desperate to go far in this draw and lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy once more.
On the other side of the net to Williams is 16th seed Barbora Strycova. The Czech has matched her run to the fourth round of last year's efforts when she upset French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in the third round. Furthermore, for the third consecutive year, two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka halted her progress, therefore, Strycova will be pleased to not face the Belarusian this year but this is the ultimate challenge as she looks to reach her second Grand Slam quarterfinal, since reaching the last eight at Wimbledon in 2014.
How they got here
The 35-year-old American began her 17th Australian Open campaign against former world number seven Belinda Bencic. This was a test that Williams required as she knew that she had to play at a high-level right from the start, considering the poor start to the year, she had in Auckland. The second seed displayed a clinical performance, despite a slight wobble in the second set, and she defeated the 19-year-old Swiss, 6-3, 6-4. In the second round, Williams was up against Strycova's compatriot Lucie Safarova, a former top five player, who suffered from an illness which ruled her out for some parts of the season, and subsequently, her ranking has dropped. It was the duo's first meeting since their three-set encounter in the French Open final in 2015. Williams once again played at a high-level defeating Safarova, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round. In the third round, the six-time champion was up against compatriot Nicole Gibbs, blitzing past her fellow American, 6-1, 6-3 to reach the fourth round.
Like Williams, the 16th seeded Czech has not dropped a set en route to the fourth round. Strycova began her Australian Open campaign against Russian qualifier Elizaveta Kulichkova, dispatching her 6-3, 6-2. In the second round, Strycova was up against former top ten player and a former Grand Slam semifinalist, Andrea Petkovic. The Czech was impressive against the unseeded German, ousting Petkovic, 6-0, 7-5. In the third round, the 30-year-old took advantage of a winnable tie against 21st seed Caroline Garcia, defeating the hard-hitting Frenchwoman 6-2, 7-5.
The two seeded players have met on two occasions and both times they were at Grand Slams. Williams leads their head-to-head 2-0, defeating Strycova in the second round of the Australian Open in 2012, 6-0, 6-4, and in the first round of Wimbledon that same year, 6-2, 6-4, en route to winning her fifth Wimbledon singles title.
Who reaches the quarterfinals?
The picture is beginning to looking clearer in the bottom half of the women's singles draw of the Australian Open which on paper was the strongest side of the draw. Dominika Cibulkova and Caroline Wozniacki have fallen by the wayside to seeded players Ekaterina Makarova and Johanna Konta respectively, who incidentally, the winner of this fourth round match will play in the quarterfinals. Furthermore, Williams will fancy her chances of reaching another Grand Slam final, although, the player who beat her in the semifinals of the US Open, Karolina Pliskova is still lurking in this section of the draw. Williams' rivals, Angelique Kerber has come through two three-set matches, Garbine Muguruza overcame adversity in her match with Marina Erakovic, and Pliskova will be even tougher to beat as she came back from 2-5 down to defeat Jelena Ostapenko.
The American will need to serve well in this contest and her heavy groundstrokes should pose a problem for Strycova to deal with. The former world number one will need to serve well in this contest as Strycova is a fighter, and she is a good returner, and she will disrupt Williams' style of play by throwing in slices to get the American uncomfortable. Albeit in the doubles court, Strycova was victorious, the last time they played in the first round of the Rio Olympics with Strycova and Safarova handing Serena and sister Venus their first defeat at the Olympics as a pairing.
This will be the first match scheduled in the Rod Laver Arena at 11 am local time on Day 8 in Melbourne, and whilst this encounter could be one-sided, Strycova has the ability to trouble Williams and could cause the upset. Both players haven't dropped a set throughout these Championships, and you can expect some entertaining rallies in this contest. Last year's finalist will be competing in her 11th Australian Open quarterfinal should she be victorious it will be a remarkable 47th Grand Slam quarterfinal overall.
Prediction: Williams in straight sets