Thanks to a slight hiccup in the third round when she dropped four games to Ayumi Morita, Serena Williams was unable to match Maria Sharapova’s mark of only losing five games heading into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
But the five-time Melbourne champion has put up an impressive mark of her own. After devastating Maria Kirilenko 6-2 6-0 in the fourth round on Monday night, Williams will enter the quarterfinals having only dropped eight games in four matches.
In winning the Brisbane title to open the year, she only dropped 14 games in four matches and didn't lose a set.
And she hasn’t lost even a quarter of a step in Melbourne, even though she injured her right ankle in the first round.
Against the crafty all-courter Kirilenko, the world’s most powerful and effective server placed in 87 per cent of her serves, winning 82 per cent of those points.
A more than fair returner, Kirilenko couldn't get close to getting into Serena’s service games. And when Serena is feeling comfortable on serve, she is willing to take more risks in her return games. If she clicking with both her serve and return, she is essentially impossible to beat.
She hasn't lost a match since mid-August last year, and the many players who have fallen in her wake would attest to that.
“I played like I wanted to play something unbelievable, every shot I want to do the good shot,” said Kirilenko.
“But sometimes you just have to play just simple, maybe just through the middle. But actually when I played through the middle, then she started to make winners. That's why maybe I was trying too much.
Williams finished the match with 22 winners and only six unforced errors, and forced Kirilenko into another 17 errors. That's a plus-33 ratio, about as good as it gets
“[It’s just] consistency, fighting,” Serena said.
“I'm really out there just doing the best I can, just fighting for everything. I think with that attitude I'm just trying to stay in the tournament just to stay alive.”
The 31-year-old Serena is one victory away from tying her longest winning streak at 21 matches. One of those streaks began at the 2003 Australian Open, when she overcame Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams in two classic three-setters, which sealed her fourth straight major. She had completed what was nicknamed the ‘Serena Slam’.
She wouldn't lose another match until the final of clay court tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, two months later, when the woman who would win the Australian Open the next year, Belgian Justine Henin, took her down.
When she walks on court for her quarterfinal on Wednesday, she will face the 19-year-old American she has likened to having a little sister, Sloane Stephens.
But don't think that Serena will show any mercy to the teenager whom she has called a future No. 1.She defeated her in the Brisbane quarters in a competitive match, but Stephens couldn't get a sniff on the Williams serve.
When asked whether she was playing mentor to Stephens, Williams implied that will have to wait until in between tournaments. After all, there is a sixth Australian title to be won.
“It's hard to be a real mentor when you're still in competition,” she said.
“But I'm here to compete and do the best I can, as well as she. And she's been doing really amazing. I'm really happy. I have a tough match, so we'll see.”