Still chasing a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title, Williams was forced to save two set points in the first set against the young Russian in Melbourne on Friday before prevailing in a 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory.
Williams battled through a tight first set before asserting control. © Reuters
The result moved the American 10th seed into a mouth-watering meeting on Saturday with Aryna Sabalenka, the in-form Belarusian seventh seed who breezed past America’s Ann Li in straight sets in her third-round match.
Williams is looking to extend her record title haul at the Australian Open, where she has a staggering seven championships to her name.
After seeing off 19-year-old former Wimbledon Junior champion Potapova, Williams admitted to her shaky start but said she was relieved to battle through.
“It definitely feels good to be in the fourth round and it’s so good to get through that match,” the American said. “I felt like I came out not off to the starting blocks like I would have wanted to and like I have been since I’ve been playing here. But it’s about surviving and playing better every round.”
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the stage was set for one enamored journalist to ask the US tennis icon a particularly gushing – if somewhat cringey – question about love.
“We know what ‘love’ means on the scoreboard, but what other ways does the word ‘love’ have a connection to tennis, for you and for others?” the journalist asked.
Despite being asked about ‘love’ away from the scoreboard, a straight-faced Williams proceeded to rattle off a series of scorelines which she most enjoys, rather than revealing the deeper passions which the journalist was perhaps hoping to stir
“I love 6-0, as long as I have six, and as long as I have 40, I love 40-0,” said Williams. “As long as I don’t have love, I’m doing good at tennis, on the court, so to say.”
Williams will have felt the love from the sidelines in Melbourne on Friday as husband Alexis Ohanian watched on while wearing a T-shirt with the slogan
“Unstoppable queen” – a garment Williams herself has been seen in at the tournament.
The match with Potapova was one of milestones for Williams as she collected her 90th win at the Australian Open.
Williams was even seen laughing during the second set before a point had even finished, showing she was enjoying herself on court at the age of 39.
While fans were in attendance in Melbourne on Friday, they will not be allowed through the gates for the next five days after the state of Victoria announced a “circuit-breaker” lockdown to suppress a coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s going to be a rough few days for I think everyone. But we’ll hopefully get through it,” Williams said of the situation. “It’s not ideal. It’s been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It’s been really cool. “But, you know what, at the end of the day we have to do what’s best. Hopefully it will be all right.”
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