London, July 7: Serena Williams sang the praises of Cori 'Coco' Gauff and Ashleigh Barty as she assessed the credentials of two players who could deny her a record-tying 24th grand slam title next weekend.
Seven-time Wimbledon champion Williams was an impressive 6-3 6-4 winner against Germany's Julia Goerges on No. 1 Court on Saturday, setting up a last-16 clash with Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, who beat Lauren Davis.
The 37-year-old American superstar could face world number one Barty in the quarter-finals, while Gauff - who Williams says is "totally capable" of winning the title at the age of 15 - is on the opposite side of the draw.
Williams labelled Australian Barty a "beautiful player" with "great technique" and added: "She's just someone in the locker room that you just always root for.
"But in general I have been watching her game because I know that she's a force to be reckoned with. So I've been watching a lot."
Barty trounced British player Harriet Dart 6-1 6-1 on Centre Court and will face American Alison Riske next. Riske, ranked 55th, beat Swiss 13th seed Belinda Bencic in three sets.
Williams says Gauff is equipped to achieve more success at Wimbledon, with the world number 313 to play Simona Halep next.
"I think there's some 15-year-olds, like me, who wouldn't know what to do at Wimbledon," Williams said. "Then you have a 15-year-old like Coco who knows what to do. I think she's definitely on a different level, so I think she's totally capable and ready."
Fourth seed Kiki Bertens was the biggest casualty of the day, the Dutch player sliding to a 7-5 6-1 defeat at the hands of experienced Barbora Strycova.
Fellow Czech Petra Kvitova raced to a 6-3 6-2 win against Poland's Magda Linette, Britain's Johanna Konta ground out a 3-6 6-4 6-1 victory over US ninth seed Sloane Stephens, and Belgian Elise Mertens dug in for a 6-2 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 success against Wang Qiang of China.
Kvitova looks to have made untroubled progress through to the second week, and the two-time Wimbledon champion is happy with her form.
But the 29-year-old has warned her campaign could end at any moment and it may have nothing to do with an opponent.
She began the tournament saying she had "no pain" in her left arm after several days of practice, but a tear forced her to pull out of the French Open and Kvitova is wary of the problem possibly returning.
"As I mentioned already many times before, the pain can come in the forearm and I have to retire," she said.
"Now my mind is more focusing on the arm than maybe on the tennis. It's a bit difficult in the practices before, my arm just getting tighter. I just felt it. I couldn't really hit it.
"I'm always worried about the scenarios that's come in the match. So far it's okay."
ENJOYING A PINCER THE ACTION
Did Barty intend to quote Sebastian, the crab from The Little Mermaid, in her press conference after beating Dart?
Asked about how she figures out how and when to play certain shots, Barty said: "I think for me sometimes I look at a shot, I play a shot, I think the seaweed is always greener in someone else's lake. I try and think of how else I can win the point."
The seaweed idiom is thought to have been coined for the 1989 animated Disney film, a subterranean take on the 'grass is always greener' notion.
No.1 Ranking Watch: Ash Barty has advanced to the Round of 16 @Wimbledon.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 6, 2019
With the results from the first week, only Karolina Pliskova has a chance to overtake Barty at No.1. Pliskova must make the final to have a chance. #Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/Fa6JP1gcfd
COCO HAS A NEW SUPER-FAN - BUT SHE'S NOT A BFF YET
Gauff was only involved in doubles on Saturday, losing a mixed match with British partner Jay Clarke.
Yet she remains in demand and proved good value in her post-match news conference, thrilled to have picked up a new fan in the former United States First Lady Michelle Obama.
On Friday evening in the US, Obama tweeted: "Coco is terrific!"
"Yeah, I just saw the tweet," said 15-year-old Gauff, who will play in the singles fourth round on Monday. "We don't talk personally. I don't have her number or anything. I was super excited. She's one of my role models. So it was just cool to see that she knows I exist."