MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Serena Williams will be primed for action against compatriot Nicole Gibbs in their third round clash at the Australian Open on Saturday, the American battle-hardened by wins over two former top-20 players in the opening rounds.
Williams, who is seeking a 23rd grand slam singles title, humbled Swiss talent Belinda Bencic in the first round, then thrashed Lucie Safarova, the woman she beat for the 2015 French Open title, and feels she is ready to raise her game further.
"At the end of the day, when I play players like Bencic and Safarova, they force me to play better," Williams said ahead of her showdown against the 92nd-ranked Gibbs on Rod Laver Arena.
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"It forces my game from the very first day to be at a high level. So I think it's actually good. I needed something to start really fast. I'm not going to complain about it."
Williams and Gibbs will be followed onto the main show court by rising talent Alexander Zverev and a rejuvenated Rafa Nadal, who is under no illusions of the challenge the German teenager will present him.
"He's a player that is for sure one of the next grand slam winners," Nadal said. "He has a big chance to become the future world number one if he's able to keep improving the way that he's doing.
"I don't have doubt that his potential is so, so high and I know I have a very tough match, and I need to play my best."
Canada's Milos Raonic, battling a virus, has also said he would need to be at his aggressive best against wily Frenchman Gilles Simon on Hisense Arena.
"He's going to be there really trying to get me to play at his speed, his rhythm," the third seed said. "Obviously he tries to slow things down, play low.
"I won't have the opportunity to get too many swings at many shots. I've got to serve well and I've got to be aggressive and I've got to take it to him.
"The last thing I want to do is get into this sort of game of playing long rallies with him."
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien)