September 1, 2013

U.S. OPEN: Serena back in quarters

NEW YORK (AP) -- For eight intense, entertaining games, Sloane Stephens stayed right with Serena Williams.

For a 40-minute stretch in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, the top two American women put on quite a show. Both hit serves topping 115 mph. Both whipped groundstrokes to the corners. Both covered a lot of ground, extending points with leg-churning defense. Both showed the occasional sign of nerves, reflecting what a big deal this was, in part because the 15th-seeded Stephens already was one of only three players to beat No. 1 Williams this season.

Until, that is, the score was 4-all in the first set Sunday. That's when Williams took over.

The 20-year-old Stephens' time at the top of tennis may come. For now, the 31-year-old Williams is still as good as it gets. Taking eight of the last nine games, defending champion Williams returned to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows by beating Stephens 6-4, 6-1.

"When you give her that opportunity to take that step forward, she definitely makes her move," Stephens said. "Unfortunately, today she made her move. I just couldn't get back in."

Still, all in all, it was remarkably compelling and, within individual points, rather evenly played for what turned out to be such a runaway.

"I definitely think it was a high-quality match," said Williams, 64-4 with eight titles this year. "We both came out today to play."

She advanced to play No. 18 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, who defeated No. 8 Angelique Kerber of Germany 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3). Asked whether there's any chance of a letdown after getting past Stephens, Williams replied: "Absolutely not. I mean, I've been at this for a long time, so for me in my career, there are no letdowns."

Two other fourth-round women's matches were scheduled for later Sunday: No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. No. 24 Ekaterina Makarova, and No. 5 Li Na vs. No. 9 Jelena Jankovic.

In men's third-round action, defending champion Andy Murray struggled with his breathing on a muggy afternoon but otherwise faced little trouble in a 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-2 victory over 47th-ranked Florian Mayer of Germany. Murray has won 29 of his last 31 Grand Slam matches, a run of success that includes his first two major titles -- at the U.S. Open last September and Wimbledon this July -- along with two runner-up finishes.

"The expectations are higher, but there's not as much pressure to win," the third-seeded Murray said. "I feel much more comfortable coming into these events than this time last year."

In the fourth round, he'll play 65th-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, who eliminated No. 20 Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-1.

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic -- the man Murray beat in last year's final at Flushing Meadows, and in this year's final at Wimbledon -- played 95th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal at night. The winner of that faces either the last American man in the field, 109th-ranked wild-card entry Tim Smyczek, or 43rd-ranked Marcel Granollers of Spain.

Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, who won the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002, reached the fourth round in New York for the first time since 2006 by defeating 102nd-ranked Evgeny Donskoy 6-3, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1.

Fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych and No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka will meet for a spot in the quarterfinals. Wawrinka held on to beat 2006 Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (7), while 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Berdych had far less of a test in a 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 31 Julien Benneteau.

"It was a bit hot, a bit humid, but otherwise, tennis was good," Berdych said. "I managed to stay focused from the first point 'til the last. Didn't do any ups and downs."

(Continued on page 2)

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