Serena Williams survived a scare from giant-killer Kaia Kanepi to claim a rollercoaster 6-0 4-6 6-3 win on Sunday and move into the US Open quarter-finals, a step closer to a record- equalling 24th career Grand Slam title.
“I feel like just getting through it in general was all I’m looking at now and not looking back and just moving towards the next match,” offered a relieved Williams, safely through to the last eight at Flushing Meadows for a 15th time.
Following a shock upset of world number one Simona Halep in the first round, the 44th-ranked Kanepi had looked a potential trouble spot for the six-times US Open champion.
Any tension inside a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, however, was quickly eased as a ruthless Williams stormed through the opening set in 18 minutes for the loss of a measly six points.
It was about as perfect a start anyone could have to match Williams, who was guilty of just two unforced errors while firing 14 winners and converting all three break chances.
But in a bizarre momentum shift, fans suddenly found themselves on the edge of their seats as the Estonian opened the second with a break. The pressure continued to mount as Kanepi, who had not strung together three consecutive tour-level match wins since her quarter-final run at last year’s US Open, broke Williams again to go up 5-2 before holding off a late rally from the 17th seed to level the match.
But having taken her first set against Williams in five career meetings, there would not be a second.
Just as quickly as the momentum swung to Kanepi, it returned to Williams in the third set as the 36-year-old American broke her opponent at the first opportunity and jumped out to a 3-0 lead before cruising to victory.
“It wasn’t easy, obviously, I think one thing she did well was change her strategy and started doing just a completely different game and gave me a different look to her game,” explained Williams, who laid down 18 aces.
“It’s not tough, but I feel like I made one or two crucial errors and that cost me the second set, or at least cost me the first game.
“It wasn’t like my level went down tremendously. It was one or two points that made a huge difference in that second set.”
Next up for Williams is a quarter-final meeting with eighth seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova who advanced with a straight-forward 6-4 6-4 win over 18th seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia.
Karolina Pliskova downs Ashleigh Barty
Eighth seed Karolina Pliskova fended off eight break points as she overcame Australia’s Ashleigh Barty 6-4 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals.
While the Czech converted both of her break point opportunities, 18th seed Barty was left frustrated time and again as she failed to capitalise on her chances.
Pliskova, who was a finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2016, committed 20 unforced errors to Barty’s 30, and closed out the match when her opponent smacked the ball into the net.
“It was very tough even though the score looks easy,” Pliskova said in an on-court interview. “I’m very happy to be through.”
She added to reporters later: “I didn’t have that many chances because of her game.
“I didn’t really feel like I had the chance and time to be aggressive.
“She had a lot of break points, so it could (have) gone both ways today. It was really like couple points.”
Pliskova will next face Serena Williams.
The last time the players met, Pliskova toppled the American to reach the US Open final in 2016.
Pliskova will be hoping she can draw on that experience to secure her passage into the semis.
“I really was feeling great that year. I’m feeling great now, too. But it was a little bit different story, 2016. I was, like, dark horse. Nobody was expecting me to get that far,” Pliskova said.
“I know she has a big game, but I have a big game too. I have a good serve. So I have some weapons too. There is always a chance for me.”
Sloane Stephens cruises past Elise Mertens
Defending champion Sloane Stephens eased into the quarter-finals with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Belgian Elise Mertens on Sunday.
Stephens, who has not dropped a set in four matches at Flushing Meadows this year, lost to Mertens at the Cincinnati warm-up last month but was never in danger of suffering a repeat as she wrapped up the win in one hour and 26 minutes.
“(Mertens) beat me two weeks ago so I knew that I had to come here and fight and do my best,” Stephens said in. “I played a solid match so I couldn’t really ask for any more.”
The American struck 17 winners and controlled play from the baseline, ran relentlessly to extend the points, dominated in the longer rallies and was also helped by her opponent’s struggles on serve.
“I think just like I always say, get your racquet on it, make a play on the ball, make your opponent play an extra ball,” Stephens told reporters. “That’s the most important thing to me.
“Sometimes it doesn’t have to be the best shot, but making them play another shot, you might get another opportunity. I worked really hard on that.”
Overall, Mertens won just 46 percent of her first serve points and faced nine break points, losing five of them.
Stephens by comparison won 73 percent of her first serves and saved four of the six break points she faced, while also making 10 fewer unforced errors than her opponent.
Next up for Stephens, who at number three is the highest seed left in the women’s draw, is a repeat of last year’s quarter-final against Latvian Anastasija Sevastova.
“I think it will be a good match,” Stephens added.
“Hoping to just get out there and kind of execute the same game plan. Quarter-finals of a Grand Slam is always really tough. It’s a big opportunity for both of us.”
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