Guiding hand of coach driving a more serene Williams forward
IN HIS 18 months as Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou has improved the world No 1's fitness and tightened up her tactics. But perhaps his greatest contribution has been to help Serena become more, well, serene.
Yesterday we heard firm evidence of this as Williams spoke about a possible return to Indian Wells, the tournament she had boycotted since she and her sister Venus were booed and heckled by fans there in 2001.
They believed there was a racial element to the abuse, which came after Venus had pulled out of an all-Williams semi-final with a back injury. In her 2009 autobiography, Serena wrote that "I don't care if they fine me a million dollars, I won't play there again".
Still, hearts can soften, even when a grievance is so deeply ingrained. And in this case, Williams seems to have discovered a spirit of reconciliation after watching 'Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'.
"It crossed my mind (to go back to Indian Wells) not too long ago when I went to see the movie," said Williams yesterday, after she had eased past Daniela Hantuchova 6-3 6-3.
"I thought about it. I think Mandela was a really amazing man. I felt really honoured to have a chance to meet him, get to know him a little bit, and get to know his story a little better."
Yesterday's match offered a good example because Williams was not quite at her best. Groundstrokes kept ballooning long, as her feet failed to move on another hundred-degree morning. But her thought processes, at least, remained cool.
And after a few anxious moments at the end, she eventually guided a forehand up the line to seal the win on her fourth match point.
This was her 61st victory at the Australian Open, carrying her past Margaret Court to the top of the all-time table at this tournament.
When the fourth-round matches begin, Williams can look forward to a favourable draw against Ana Ivanovic.
Meanwhile, Li Na was a point away from going out of the tournament before seeing off Lucie Safarova 1-6 7-6 6-3.
On the men's side, Novak Djokovic continued his relentless march, stacking up his 27th straight win since last year's US Open and his 24th in a row at the Australian Open, where he has not been beaten since 2010. His victim this time was Denis Istomin, beaten 6-3 6-3 7-5. It was a bad day for the French, who saw all three who played yesterday -- Jeremy Chardy, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Richard Gasquet -- go out of the tournament. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
LIVE, EUROSPORT, 6.0AM