Serena Williams had to channel every ounce of her 23-time grand slam winning grit to overcome a nervy start and a plucky opponent to book her place in the second week of the Australian Open.
Her determined win came on the last day fans will be able to watch the Australian Open live for at least five days as Victoria prepares to enter a snap lockdown from Friday night.
“It’s rough. It’s going to be a rough few days for everyone,” Williams said of the lock down after completing her 7-6(5) 6-2 win.
Williams earlier had plenty of wobbles in the first set, before eventually running away against Russia’s Anastasia Potapova to seal a second-week berth in Melbourne for the 15th time in her career.
“I was not off the starting blocks as I have been earlier [in Australia] but it’s about surviving and moving on,” Williams said post-match.
Williams played with surprising cautiousness from the outset, hitting well within her margins as most of her thundering groundstrokes only landed halfway up the court.
And that nervousness was not helped by Potapova, who bounced around the court and matched Williams’ firepower to secure the early break with a well-disguised drop shot.
But Williams held her nerve, showing glimpses of the play that willed her to seven Australian Open titles to force the opening set into a tiebreak.
Down 5-3, she reeled off four consecutive points and sealed the opening stanza with a roar after outlasting the spirited Russian in a 20-shot tit-for-tat.
Still appearing flummoxed by her rival and sketchy play, a lung-bursting point that first dragged Williams to the net to track down a drop shot, followed by a superb retrieval of a Potapova lob kept her in a crucial point in the third game of the second set.
Having sent a shot close to the stratosphere, the mid-afternoon sun and the exhaustion of having run over 70 metres in the last 20 seconds weighed on Potapova, who dumped a regulation smash into the net.
From there, the American freed up, and won five of the last six games.
Post-match, Williams – still pursuing Margaret Court’s record 24 grand slam haul – said she was disappointed, but understood the decision for Melbourne to head back into lockdown.
“It’s not ideal, it’s been really fun having the crowd back especially here, it’s been really cool. But at the end of the day we have to do what’s best and hopefully it will be alright,” Williams said.
And how will it affect her extra-curricular plans? “I don’t know, I think we just go from the tennis to the hotel, I’m not sure, but I imagine that will be it.”
Fans urged to stay home ahead of Kyrgios blockbuster
It’s not the news Nick Kyrgios would have wanted to hear, with crowds likely to have played a starring role during his highly-anticipated clash with Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem on John Cain Arena, aka the people’s court.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday told reporters ticketholders should seriously reconsider attending the match, after announcing the entire state of Victoria would be heading into a five-day lockdown.
The state’s citizens will once again live under stage 4 restrictions from 11:59pm on Friday and are only allowed to leave the home for four essential reasons.
“It’s always a difficult decision about… the operative time of these sorts of decisions,” Andrews said.
“I hope people will use common sense and good judgement and perhaps not go out tonight, as they had planned to do. That would be a great thing for them, for all of us.
“We went through it, and there was quite a discussion and there were pros and cons for… different times. But this is probably the most seamless.”
However, the “circuit-breaker” announcement does not affect the running of the Open.
Professional players and staff members would be classified as ‘essential workers’ under the rules, which means they will be playing to empty stadiums during the typically-packed middle weekend.
And fans who hoped to attend lockdown-affected sessions will be fully refunded in coming days, according to Tennis Australia.
Rafael Nadal is ‘boring’, allegedly
Sounds like clutching at straws? Most definitely.
That statement came from the female fan who caused a commotion and was ejected during Rafael Nadal’s win over Michael Mmoh after hurling expletives towards the Spanish 20-time grand slam champion.
The match was halted briefly at the end of the second set as the woman, who also flicked the bird during the bewildering ordeal, continued heckling Nadal before security guards led her away.
However, she doubled down on Friday, telling Melbourne’s 3AW radio she was frustrated with the Spaniard’s adherence to superstitions.
“He’s boring. The fact pictures of me have gone viral show how boring he is,” she said.
“I just called out, “get over your OCD rituals” and that’s when I flicked him the bird.”
Nadal, for his part, was flummoxed by the saga – the only obstacle that manifested during his routine win over the young American.
“Maybe she had too much gin or tequila. I don’t know,” Nadal said.
“Honestly it was strange situation, but funny at the same time.”
Italians kiss and make up after on-court spat
Italian 17th seed Fabio Fognini has always remained one of the sport’s most volatile players, and his theatrics boiled over after his second-round clash against countryman Salvatore Caruso on Thursday night.
After a five-set thriller on John Cain Arena, tempers ran hot between the pair as they backed up their bags and headed for the exits.
Cue gesticulating and fierce arguing in their native tongue after Fognini suggested the younger Caruso’s game was full of lucky shots.
Fognini later told reporters: “What happens on court, stays on court”.
“I was lucky, too. It’s not important what you asked me before because these kind of things sometimes on court,” Fognini said.
Fognini later posted an apology on social media, congratulating Caruso on a “remarkable couple of years”.
“I’m sorry for the way it ended. Congrats to you, Salvo,” he wrote.
 Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) d Ann Li (USA) 6-3 6-1
 Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 6-2 6-4
 Garbine Muguruza (ESP) d Zarina Diyas (KAZ) 6-1 6-1
 Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) d  Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) 6-0 1-0 ret.
Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE) d [Q] Sara Errani (ITA) 6-4 2-6 7-5