In the only fourth round match that has gone entirely with seeding, the number two seed Serena Williams will play the number 16 seed, Barbora Strycova with a place in the quarter-finals up for grabs.
Uncertainty loomed over Serena pre-tournament having played just two matches since the 2016 US Open with one of those being a pretty dicey loss to Madison Brengle in a windy Auckland. The draw looked ominous from the get-go but Serena has found her Slam form. She has advanced to the fourth round without dropping more than four games in a set with straight set wins over Belinda Bencic (6-4 6-3), Lucie Safarova (6-3 6-4) and Nicole Gibbs (6-1 6-3). The tough draw has actually been favourable for Serena, especially with her lack of matches, because it has forced her to hit the ground running.
Strycova is currently sitting pretty at her highest career ranking of 16 following her best year on tour. The Czech player has continued to shine with a series of smart and consistent displays and is yet to drop a set en route to the fourth round of the Australian Open. In the third round, Strycova continued her comfortable passage through the draw with a 6-2 7-5 victory over Caroline Garcia.
Chasing one more ball down and solid variation on the serve helped Strycova to win the first set, 6-2. Garcia turned things around in the second set and should have won it from *5-3 *40-15; however, a succession of errors let Strycova back in who reeled off 14 straight points. Strycova, who won all seven points she played at the net, came back to record a sixth consecutive victory against Garcia.
Head-to-head record: Serena and Barbora haven’t played since 2012 where the pair played each other twice – both were at Slams with Serena prevailing at the Australian Open (6-0 6-4, 2012) and Wimbledon (6-2 6-4, 2012).
Interesting stat: Strycova’s last three top ten wins have come against the world number three. Her record against top ten players in 2016 was 2-11.
Final thoughts: I think this is going to be Serena’s toughest match of the tournament so far. The pair haven’t played since 2012 and Strycova’s improvement since then has been off the charts. The Czech player excels in her defence from the back of the court and anticipation of the game with a desire to play up at the net. I think she’s the type of player that can disrupt Serena’s rhythm because she has variety. To stand a chance, she will need to stay on an even keel mentally, which is not always the case!
Strycova delivered an underrated display at this stage of the tournament last year where she gave a super account of herself even if she did lose in straight sets to a red-hot, Victoria Azarenka. I’d fancy Strycova to compete well again and i’d even go as far to give Strycova a set. Serena hasn’t been tested in terms of a really close match and while i’m ultimately picking her for the win with the serve and groundstrokes looking decent, I think this will be a fun one.