Serena shakes off Kanepi to reach US Open quarter-finals
Six-time champion Serena Williams survived a spirited challenge from unseeded Kaia Kanepi to triumph 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday and reach the quarter-finals of the US Open.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion looked set to romp when she seized the first set from Kanepi in just 18 minutes.
But the hard-hitting Estonian, who took out world number one Simona Halep in the first round, settled down in the second set, shaking off the partisan crowd in a jammed Arthur Ashe Stadium to push Williams the rest of the way.
“It wasn’t an easy match at all," said Williams, who let out a roar after ripping a backhand cross court to hold serve in the opening game of the third set.
"She's had a lot of big wins in her career. I was just happy to get through it to be honest."
Williams fired 18 aces and 47 total winners -- but a couple of loose points gifted Kanepi a break in the first game of the second set and she couldn't get back on terms.
Williams double-faulted on break point to send Kanepi up 5-2. The American would win the next two games, but she couldn't find another break and after fighting off two set points saw Kanepi knot the match on her third chance.
Williams needed three game points to secure the opening game of the third set, letting out a roar when she fired a backhand crosscourt to take the game.
"Winning a big game and a very important game and a really tight game, I think it was just a relief," said Williams, who took control with a break in the next game -- her advantage standing up until she fired a forehand winner on her first match point.
Williams booked a quarter-final date with Karolina Pliskova, the eighth-seeded Czech who beat Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-4.
Pliskova defeated Williams in the semi-finals in New York in 2016 and Williams said she'd have to watch out for more than Pliskova's big serve -- she's among the leaders in aces on the WTA tour.
"She has a really good forehand. In fact, she doesn't do a lot of things bad," Williams said.
She noted that Pliskova briefly gained the number one ranking last year, although her runner-up finish to Angelique Kerber in that 2016 US Open final remains her best Grand Slam performance.
"She got there for a reason, she has a lot of strong parts to her game," she said but added: "I think we are in different positions now. It will be an interesting match."
Williams heads into the second week at Flushing Meadows tracking two milestones: A seventh US Open title would see her break out of a tie with Chris Evert for the Open Era record and also equal Australian Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 major titles.
Elsewhere on Sunday, defending champion Sloane Stephens took on 15th-seeded Belgian Elise Mertens.
Stephens is trying to become the first woman to win back-to-back US Open titles since Williams won three straight in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
- Seeds scattered -
The third-seeded Stephens is the highest-ranked woman in the draw after the early exits of Halep and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki.
In all just three of the top 10 women made it into the round of 16.
The departure of Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, along with Australian Open winner Wozniacki and French Open champ Halep, means that for the second straight year the Grand Slam titles will go to four different women.
Another top-10 player fell on Sunday, as seventh-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina fell to 19th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
Sevastova stormed home, winning the last six games in a 6-3, 1-6, 6-0 victory that put her into the quarter-finals for a third straight year where she'll face either Stephens or Mertens.
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