Serena Williams is into the second week of the Australian Open for the 12th time in her career. By contrast, her fourth round opponent, Margarita Gasparyan is contending not only her first fourth round at the Australian Open, but also her first fourth round at any Grand Slam. Previously, Gasparyan had never won a Grand Slam main draw match before this week in Melbourne. This will be Serena’s second Russian opponent in a row having dismantled the game of 18-year-old, Daria Kasatkina in the third round. Serena won, 6-1 6-1 in just 44 minutes. It was her most flawless display for quite some time and she rose to the potential challenge against a player that had defeated her sister, Venus just two weeks ago in the first round of Auckland.
Gasparyan took the seeded place of Sara Errani in the draw, ousting the number 17 seed in a three set opener, 1-6 7-5 6-1. The 21-year-old backed that up with victories over Kurumi Nara (6-4 6-4) and Yulia Putintseva (6-3 6-4). Gasparyan led with a double break in both sets against Putintseva, starting on song with a myriad of winners, before encountering some resistance from her opponent. It was a pretty tasty encounter with Poots being Poots… the handslap at the end was amusing.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match-up, Serena defeated Gasparyan in the first round of Wimbledon last year, overcoming a fast start from the Russian player in the first set to win in straight sets, 6-4 6-1.
Analysis: Gasparyan had already broken new ground in reaching the second round and unlocked a lot of progress levels this week. While she comes up against a very sharp and obviously experienced, Serena, she has some weapons that can at least give the world number one a competitive match. Serena stumbled mid-tournament in the Slams last year (one of the main reasons I gave Kasatkina a set in the last round) but has looked so focussed and energised this week. I’m still wondering if there will be a lull at all in her level because right now, it’s looking rather ominous. I would fancy this to be a competitive match, a tight two setter.
Prediction: S.Williams d. Gasparyan in 2 sets