MELBOURNE — The 2015 season was a historic one for Serena Williams — completing another Serena Slam, coming oh, so close to a Calendar Slam, earning Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year — but it also was a considerable grind.
Despite winning major after major, she only did so by surviving multiple third-round matches. She repeatedly struggled in the first set and placed her back against the wall. She lost her first set eight times — twice at the Australia, four times at the French, once at Wimbledon and once at the US Open.
She always rallied though, other than her US Open upset defeat when she won the first set against Roberta Vinci and lost the next two.
No wonder she felt the need to call the season short early.
Despite the concerns about her health and sore knees along with her four-month layoff, this year is starting off more easily. After withdrawing from the Hopman Cup due to knee inflammation, Williams is playing in top form, winning in straight sets each round so far.
She had a tight first-round victory over Camila Giorgi, a much easier victory over Su-Wei Hsieh and continued her run with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over teenager Daria Kasatkina in Friday’s third round in Rod Laver Arena.
There was no wasted time this match. Williams not only played like the world No. 1 that she is, she also played as if she were in a hurry to get to a movie, or perhaps track down a cell phone thief. Serena said her two-piece outfit this tournament is “built for speed” and that was definitely the case. The match took just 44 minutes — the shortest of the tournament so far.
The outcome was never in question, either — Williams had 27 winners, just eight unforced errors and outpointed Kasatkina 55-18.
“I think I played well today,” she said. “It was one of those days where everything I did went well. I ran a couple balls down and was surprised they went for winners.”
Serena will play 58th-ranked Margarita Gasparyan in the fourth round. The two have played once before, when Serena beat her in the first round at Wimbledon last summer.
Kasatkina, meanwhile, got a good lesson in what she needs to do to win. At 18, she is so young she hadn’t been born when Serena started her pro career. She was one of four teens in the third round, which was the first time four teens have reached that far at the Aussie since 2009. She won juniors at the French Open in 2014 and reached the third round of the US Open last year after qualifying as a lucky loser. She rose from 370 at the end of 2014 to 72 last year and is currently 69.
Serena, however, showed that Kasatkina is still a long, long way from No. 1.
Williams had never faced Kasatkina before, but she knew of her. The Russian 18-year-old beat her sister Venus at Auckland two weeks ago, so Serena gained a measure of revenge for the family.
And she did it quick. Leaving her plenty of time to do whatever is next on her schedule, such as tying Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era with 22.
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