When Serena Williams' legacy is fully assessed, which victories will be more memorable? The matches that she controlled from start to finish? Or the ones when she didn’t, but won anyway?

Today came yet another case of the latter. Playing Anastasia Potapova, a 19-year-old Russian who was the No. 1 junior in the world in 2016, Williams began this third-round match in a familiar way: scratching for form, late to the ball, outhit by a confident and far-younger opponent. Aware her entire life of Williams as the WTA’s gold standard, Potapova represented the classic case of free-swinging youth, as she clawed her way through rallies and boldly slashed groundstroke winners in all directions.

A sluggish Williams dropped her serve at 2-3, won the next game to reach 3-4, but was broken again. Up 5-3, Potapova appeared ready to give Williams a major challenge.

Then came the unraveling. Potapova held two set points—and double-faulted on both. She also double-faulted three other times in that game, including on break point. And even though Potapova served at 5-3 in the tiebreaker, by this stage, even if she took the set, it was hard to feel confident about her winning the match. Potapova’s strokes had been revealed as too flat, the serve a security risk.

Fittingly, the last rally of the first set—Potapova serving at 5-6 in the tiebreaker—was also the longest of the match, a lively 20-shot tussle. Williams ended up winning it, and as so many times in her matches, once the challenge had been blunted, everything changed.

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Serena quells surge to set up fascinating—but fan-free—Sabalenka clash

Serena quells surge to set up fascinating—but fan-free—Sabalenka clash

Though Potapova broke to start the second set, Williams won the next game, sprinted to a 4-1 lead and handily closed out the match, 7-6 (5), 6-2. After making 25 unforced errors in the first set, Williams clamped down in the second, committing just six.

“Yes, it was good to get through that match,” she said. “The first set was extremely tight. I was a little tight, but it worked out. Was able to play a little more free in the second set.”

While Potapova showed glimpses of power and potential, consider her a mere bagatelle in comparison to Williams’ next opponent, seventh-seeded Aryna Sabalenka. The two have never met, an intriguing prospect for each.

“She has a big, big power game,” said Williams. “She's a big girl. Strong like myself.”

Like Potapova, Sabalenka has never played tennis in a world where Serena wasn’t present. Her first memory of Williams goes back to this very tournament and the 2016 singles final.

“I was thinking like, wow, she's really powerful,” said Sabalenka, “And, yeah, and I think I said like, I want to hit even stronger than her. I don't know if it was, was it smart or no, but on that point I was thinking like, wow, she's really powerful. I want to be like powerful too, and like I want to dominate on the tour the same like she do. And, yeah, there was, I was a kid.”

Serena quells surge to set up fascinating—but fan-free—Sabalenka clash

Serena quells surge to set up fascinating—but fan-free—Sabalenka clash

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Five years later, Sabalenka has won nine WTA singles titles—but needs to beat Serena if she hopes to reach her first Grand Slam singles quarterfinal.

But high-grade power will only be one factor in Chapter One of Williams-Sabalenka. After a week of fans being allowed to attend the tournament, the state of Victoria (where Melbourne is located) has ordered a five-day lockdown amid concerns about a growing COVID cluster. Though the tennis will continue during that time, fans are now banned until at least Wednesday.

“It's not ideal,” said Williams. “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.”

Williams also admitted in this post-match press conference that she is not a big fan of change. But change is certain to govern her life for many months to come. As today’s announcement from the government demonstrated, the plot twists likely to shape tennis in the year 2021 have only just begun.

Serena quells surge to set up fascinating—but fan-free—Sabalenka clash

Serena quells surge to set up fascinating—but fan-free—Sabalenka clash