Serena Williams match was more than an hour old Monday before she began providing a soundtrack for her comeback. Come on! she shouted at her fist through gritted teeth. Her demeanor transformed,Williams rallied past Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round of the Sony Open 2-6,6-4,6-2.
The top-ranked Williams,seeking her sixth Key Biscayne title and first since 2008,was down a service break trailing 4-1 in the second set before she swept the final five games of the set. She also won the last three games of the match and served it out at love with three aces.
I just felt slow and sluggish, she said. Then I started hitting errors,and I was getting frustrated. Then I tried not to be frustrated. I was just proud of myself because I didnt throw any rackets, she said. Williams opponent in the quarterfinals Tuesday will be No. 5-seeded Li Na,who beat wild card Garbine Muguruza 7-6 (6),6-2. No. 3 Maria Sharapova,a four-time runner-up seeking her first Key Biscayne title,reached the quarterfinals by beating No. 21 Klara Zakopalova 6-2,6-2,while Americas Sloane Stephens started strong before losing the last nine games to be eliminated by defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6,6-2,6-0.
That spoiled the possibility of a rematch in the semifinals between Williams and Stephens,who pulled off an upset when they met at the Australian Open in January. Since beating Williams,the No. 16-ranked Stephens is 2-5.
Theres no specific thing that Id say has happened or is not happening,but I dont think it really matters, she said. Im 16 in the world. I can lose in the first round the next two months and I probably would still be top 30. Im not really too concerned about winning or losing or any of that,I dont think. My life has changed,yeah,but I wouldnt say Im in a panic or anything, Stephens said.
In mens third-round play,2009 champion Andy Murray beat Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (3),6-3. No. 6-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Jarkko Nieminen 6-3,6-3,American Sam Querrey advanced when No. 14-seeded Milos Raonic withdrew because of illness and American John Isner hit 20 aces but lost to No. 9-seeded Marin Cilic,6-3,7-6 (3).
Williams was impassive and flat on her feet in the early going against the No. 13-seeded Cibulkova,and the half-empty stands made for a sleepy atmosphere.
During changeovers,disco,salsa and Coldplay blared from the public address system,and something finally got Williams going. Her shots began landing consistently just inside the lines,and she won 10 consecutive points to surge ahead in the second set. She let out a yell for the first time when she hit a backhand winner to reach set point,screaming encouragement at herself. The crowd responded with a roar of approval. Williams won the next point with an ace,and when a replay confirmed the call to seal the set,she hollered again and spiked a spare ball.
Williams went ahead to stay by breaking serve at love for a 2-1 lead in the final set. After closing out the victory with a 116-mph ace,she swung her fist in satisfaction.