Australian Open: No-look shot in Serena's win; COVID fan ban

United States' Serena Williams makes a forehand return to Russia's Anastasia Potapova during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
United States' Serena Williams makes a forehand return to Russia's Anastasia Potapova during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Serena Williams used a no-look shot to help complete a comeback at an Australian Open where spectators will be banned as of Saturday because of a local five-day lockdown

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — If Serena Williams somehow manages to conjure up another on-the-run, back-to-the-net, no-look, over-the-shoulder shot in her next Australian Open match, a local coronavirus flareup means there won't be any spectators to react with the appreciative applause and yells that greeted this one.

That's because while Williams was using that bit of magic Friday to help pull off a comeback victory over an opponent who is 20 years younger, the head of the Victoria state government was announcing a five-day lockdown in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.

Competition at the year's first Grand Slam tournament will be allowed to continue, but no fans can attend as of Saturday.

After the pandemic led to the cancellation of Wimbledon, zero fans at the U.S. Open and only 1,000 a day at the French Open in 2020, the government let Tennis Australia admit up to 30,000 daily, 50% of normal capacity.

But not anymore.

“It’s going to be a rough few days for, I think, everyone. But we’ll hopefully get through it,” Williams said after beating 19-year-old Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (5), 6-2 despite 25 unforced errors in the first set alone. “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.”

A year ago, Williams dropped just three games against Potapova in the first round. But then the American was surprised in the third round, her earliest exit in Australia in 14 years.

This time at that stage, Williams — who has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in Australia — fell behind in the opening set, which Potapova served for at 5-3. But the 2016 Wimbledon junior champion double-faulted five times in that game, including twice on set point.

Williams then trailed 5-3 in the tiebreaker. But she took the next four points, the last on a 21-stroke exchange that ended with Potapova putting a forehand into the net.

“I don't have much experience on those stages. For me, it was an absolutely mental thing. I was over-thinking. I was over-playing. Over-hitting,” said Potapova, who was visited by a trainer in the second set for what she described as pain between her ribs that made it hard to breathe.

“Respect to Serena. She came back. She just didn’t let it go,” the 101st-ranked Potapova said. "She kept fighting for each point, for each ball.”

Never more so than shortly after Potapova edged ahead again by breaking to begin the second set.

Williams broke right back with the help of a remarkable get on a lob. After somehow putting her racket on the ball and sending it in the right direction, the 39-year-old paused and smiled, assuming the point was over — and then laughed upon realizing she won the point, because Potapova responded by putting an overhead into the net.

“I mean, that was a great point. Very beautiful," Potapova said with a smile in a video interview with The Associated Press. “That's what she does. That's what makes her be great.”

Williams now plays seventh-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who matched her best Grand Slam showing by reaching the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Ann Li.

“It's always, I think, a big challenge to play against these kind of players. But I’m going to do everything I can to get this win,” Sabalenka said. “We’re all here for the wins.”

She's been accumulating them at quite a pace going back to the end of last season: Sabalenka has won 18 of her past 19 matches.

“She hits very hard. She has a big, big power game,” Williams said about the 22-year-old from Belarus. “She’s a big girl — strong like myself.”

Other women's fourth-round matchups established Friday: three-time Grand Slam title winner Naomi Osaka against two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza, 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova against Hsieh Su-wei, and two-time major champ Simona Halep against reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek.

No. 8 Diego Schwartzman became the highest-seeded man to lose so far, eliminated 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 by Aslan Karatsev, a qualifier from Russia ranked 114th and making his Grand Slam debut at age 27.

No. 3 Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open in September, appeared to be in real trouble against Australia's Nick Kyrgios in front of a raucous crowd, but came all the way back from a two-set deficit to win 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Thiem's fourth-round opponent is No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, who advanced when Pablo Carreno Busta retired after losing the first seven games.

Karatsev is the first qualifier to reach the fourth round at Melbourne Park since Milos Raonic a decade ago and will meet No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who defeated No. 11 Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 in an all-Canadian matchup.

In other action, 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Alexander Zverev won in straight sets and now takes on No. 23 Dusan Lajovic, while Novak Djokovic's bid for a ninth Australian Open championship was thrown into doubt after he took a fall during a 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Taylor Fritz and said he tore a muscle.

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic said he might not be able to play his next match, scheduled for Sunday against Milos Raonic.

“I don’t know if I will step on the court or not,” Djokovic said.

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Spectators watch the third round match between Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and United States' Ann Li at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Spectators watch the third round match between Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and United States' Ann Li at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Credit: Rick Rycroft

Credit: Rick Rycroft

United States' Serena Williams reacts during her third round match against Russia's Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
United States' Serena Williams reacts during her third round match against Russia's Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Russia's Anastasia Potapova reacts during during her third round match against United States' Serena Williams at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Russia's Anastasia Potapova reacts during during her third round match against United States' Serena Williams at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Spain's Garbine Muguruza makes a forehand return to Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Spain's Garbine Muguruza makes a forehand return to Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, left, waves as he leaves the court after he retired in his third round match against Buglaria's Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Natasha Morello/Tennis Australia via AP)
Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, left, waves as he leaves the court after he retired in his third round match against Buglaria's Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Natasha Morello/Tennis Australia via AP)

Credit: Natasha Morello

Credit: Natasha Morello

Germany's Alexander Zverev reacts during his third round match against France's Adrian Mannarino at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Germany's Alexander Zverev reacts during his third round match against France's Adrian Mannarino at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating United States' Talyor Fritz in their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating United States' Talyor Fritz in their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Credit: Andy Brownbill

Australia's Nick Kyrgios gestures during his third round match against Austria's Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
Australia's Nick Kyrgios gestures during his third round match against Austria's Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Credit: Hamish Blair

Credit: Hamish Blair

Austria's Dominic Thiem celebrates after winning his third round match against Australia's Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
Austria's Dominic Thiem celebrates after winning his third round match against Australia's Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Credit: Hamish Blair

Credit: Hamish Blair

In Other News