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Focused Serena advances to Australian Open quarterfinals

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: Serena Williams of the United States plays a backhand in her fourth round match against Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on day eight of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
January 23, 2017 10:18 AM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

Serena Williams is three wins away from history but, as she has so many times in the past, she's refusing to look ahead.

Major title No. 23 may be in her crosshairs, but that’s not something she wants to discuss right now. Yet with every victory, it becomes harder to ignore what’s at stake.

The world No. 2 defeated No. 16 seed Barbora Strycova, 7-5, 6-4, in Rod Laver Arena on Monday to seal her spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals and inch ever closer to becoming the winningest player in the Open era; a title in Melbourne would propel the American legend past Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles since the dawn of the Open era in 1968.

The 35-year-old will play ninth-seeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain in the final eight and, should she win that, either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia or No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the semifinals. The latter would be a rematch of the 2016 US Open semifinals, where Pliskova stunned the six-time champion.

Lucic-Baroni advanced Monday by ending the Cinderella run of American qualifier Jennifer Brady.

“I have absolutely nothing to lose in this tournament,” said Williams, who would also regain the No. 1 ranking with a victory Down Under. “Everything here is a bonus for me. Obviously I'm here to win. Hopefully I can play better, I can only go better.”

Williams was not at her best on Monday, but she found a way to win despite making just 45 percent of her first serves and spraying 46 unforced errors to 28 winners.

The opening set was marred by breaks of serve, Williams (pictured above) being broken in three of her first four service games and Strycova failing to hold in four of her six attempts. Strycova saved four set points at 4-5 and three more at 5-6 before the American finally wrapped up the 56-minute set.

The second set was more consistent from both players, and Williams raced out to a 4-1 lead after breaking Strycova in the fourth game. Williams was unable to serve it out at the first attempt, but any hope of the match going to a deciding set was extinguished almost immediately when the six-time Australian Open champion broke to win the match in the very next game.

“Yeah, I feel like it was really good for me to win on probably not my best day, which is always good, because sometimes you rely on one shot and if it goes off, and then, like, what happens now?" she said. “It was really good for me to almost lose that so I know my other game is going pretty good, too.”

The victory was Williams’ 78th at Melbourne Park and sends her into the quarterfinal for the 11th time in Australia and for the 48th time in her Grand Slam career. It also gives the U.S. three women in the final eight, alongside older sister Venus and CoCo Vandeweghe, who would meet in the other semifinal should they each win on Tuesday.

On Day 9 at the ‘Happy Slam,’ Venus will play No. 24 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Vandeweghe will play reigning French Open champion and No. 7 seed Garbiñe Muguruza.