What do an ankle injury, the fourth round of the Australian Open, a Russian player and Serena Williams have in common? More than you’d think.
In the corresponding round last year, Williams, who was hampered by an ankle injury, was sensationally upset by little-known Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
Twelve months on, Williams will be driven to Rod Laver Arena on Monday with these thoughts running through her head – it’s the same round, similar ankle injury – although this time around it doesn’t seem as bad – but a different Russian, Maria Kirilenko.
Williams owns their history – she has won all five matches the pair has played. Despite that, she won’t be taking Kirilenko lightly.
“Maria is playing consistent tennis, especially the past 16, 18 months, she's been so consistent. So my goal is just to be really focused against such a player that's doing so well,” said Williams.
Not surprisingly, this will be Williams’ sternest test so far. Like a true epicurean, Williams consumed Ayumi Morita, Garbine Muguruza and Edina Gallovits-Hall as if they were mere aperitifs. Kirilenko, however, could well prove to be a more difficult to consume entrée.
The last time the pair met, in Stanford two years ago, Kirilenko pushed Williams to a deciding set. Despite a lack of physical presence, Kirilenko uses her court smarts to get back more than her fair share of balls.
In stark contrast, Williams relies on brute strength to overpower her opponent and dominate them physically and mentally; not that this daunts the 25-year-old Kirilenko.
“I'm just going to take it like another match [with] a different player. The important thing is to fight,” she said.
And she’ll need to. Williams has shown little in the way of weaknesses in the first week of the tournament. The Williams serve has been broken just once in three matches, and in that time she has offered up just four break-point opportunities.
Kirilenko, in her matches to date, has converted 12 out of her 26 opportunities to break her opponent. She won’t have the luxury of having so many break-point chances against Williams, so she will have to make the most of any chances Williams offers up.
That number is likely to be small. Williams has her sights set on history and not just breaking the serve speed record that has come up in conversation of late. A pair of 207km/h rockets, just 3km/h off the record, has Williams looking to add her name to the top of yet another list.
If all goes to plan for the American, a sixth title here next Saturday night will take Williams’ tally of majors to 16, two behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert but still six behind Steffi Graf and eight behind Margaret Court, who has 24.
It will also set Williams up for another “Serena Slam”. Having won Wimbledon and the US Open to finish off 2012, should Williams win here, she will only need to capture Roland Garros and she will hold all four major titles simultaneously.
It’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved since, you guessed it, Serena Williams in 2003.
But before Williams can write her name in the record books once more, she first has to ensure that she doesn’t fall victim to consecutive fourth-round losses – a piece of history that Williams will be looking to avoid making at all costs.