Serena 'in the zone' with straight-sets win in Melbourne

Melbourne (AFP) –


An aggressive Serena Williams stepped up preparations for another tilt at a 24th Grand Slam title with a straight-sets victory over home hope Daria Gavrilova in the Yarra Valley Classic Monday.

The 39-year-old appeared physically strong and in control en route to a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 win in 94 minutes as she counts down to the Australian Open next week.

"I felt that I was composed and in the zone. Just trying to do the things that I've been working on," she said in an on-court interview.

Williams started sluggishly, losing the first three points on serve, before quickly overpowering the Australian, who had opened the tournament impressively over Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia.

Gavrilova, ranked 451, was overmatched against her idol but used her speed around the court to make Williams work harder in a more competitive second set.

The American, though, had all the answers and it was a sharp performance from Williams, who lifted the intensity in her second match back on the circuit after defeating world number three Naomi Osaka in an exhibition in Adelaide on Friday.

Williams, looking to get matches under her belt before embarking on another bid for a record-equalling 24th major singles title, will next play Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria in the round of 16.

Earlier, teenage sensation Coco Gauff showed only glimpses of the form that fuelled her dazzling run at last year's Australian Open during a gruelling three-sets victory over Jil Teichmann at the Gippsland Trophy.

The 16-year-old overcame a mid-match stutter to win 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/5) in two hours and 45 minutes.

"All the training I did in the off-season meant I was able to go through three tough sets and not get tired," she said.

The American was one of the stories of Melbourne last year, where she upset reigning champion Osaka in straight sets in the third round.

World number five Elina Svitolina also moved through with a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 victory over former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic of Germany.

The 26-year-old Ukrainian, who has never reached the final of a Grand Slam, played her first match in Melbourne since emerging from the 14-day mandatory quarantine.

She fell in the quarter-finals to Russia's Veronika Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi last month.

"I think a few matches in Abu Dhabi helped me get straight into the match, and I started strong," she said.

Svitolina plays former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the round of 16.

The two WTA events are being played concurrently at Melbourne Park as players prepare for the Australian Open starting on February 8.