Seven-time champion Serena Williams has continued her powerhouse start to the Australian Open with a 6-2 6-1 third-round demolition job on Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska.
The 18-year-old, who wasn’t even born when the American won her first major singles title in 1999, was in tears as she walked to the net to shake the hand of her childhood hero, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The 37-year-old said some words on the court to Yastremska that left a lasting impact.
“She said ‘don’t cry, you’re still young … come on you don’t have to cry’,” the Ukrainian said.
“She told me a couple of nice words when we met in the changing room. She said ‘you are young, you are very good and you will be a good player in the future’. It’s nice to hear those words from a legend. If she thinks so then maybe that’s true. What I’m trying to do is to go to the level that people are going to talk about me the same, that I have something special.”
After comforting the world No.57 on court, Williams took her aside in the changing rooms to exchange some more words of encouragement.
“It’s important we all have each other’s back and support each other,” Williams said.
“You go out there and you want to win. “I liked that. It showed that she wasn’t just there to play the match, she was there to win. It really broke my heart.
“When I was young I played against so many people like Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles … everyone I faced was in the hall of fame. Every match was intimidating and not easy but you just go out and do the best you can.”
Things are set to get a whole lot tougher for Serena.
Having dropped a miserly nine games in her first three victories against Tatjana Maria, Eugenie Bouchard and Yastremska, Williams will play either older sister Venus or world No.1 Simona Halep in the round of 16 on Monday.
“You’ve just got to play each match as it comes,” said Williams, after needing just 67 minutes to end the challenge of Yastremska, who had beaten Australian Samantha Stosur in the opening round.
Were she to go on and win the tournament, the 37-year-old Williams would equal legendary Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 women’s grand slam titles.
Japan’s No.4 seed Naomi Osaka, who beat Williams in the controversial final of last year’s US Open, had a much tougher time in the third round at Melbourne Park on Saturday before finding a way past Hsieh Su-Wei from Taiwan 5-7 6-4 6-1.
Her opponent in the round of 16 will be Latvian No.13 seed Anastasija Sevastova, who beat China’s Wang Qiang 6-3 6-3.
No.6 seed Elina Svitolina from Ukraine came back from 3-0 down in the third set to end the challenge of China’s Zhang Shuai 4-6 6-4 7-5.
Svitolina had a medical time-out and several courtside massages for a shoulder complaint during the marathon match on Rod Laver Arena.