NEW YORK (AP) — Taking eight of the last nine games, defending champion Serena Williams returned to the U.S. Open quarterfinals by beating Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-1 in a fourth-round match between the two top Americans.
The 20-year-old Stephens, one of only three players to beat Williams this season, matched the world No. 1 for 40 minutes. After that, it was one way. All in all, it was remarkably compelling and, within individual points, rather evenly played for what turned out to be such a lopsided result.
"I definitely think it was a high-quality match," said Williams, who has a 64-4 win-loss mark with eight titles this year. "We both came out today to play." Williams 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."
In Sunday's other fourth-round women's matches, No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska lost 6-4, 6-4 to No. 24 Ekaterina Makarova, and 2011 French Open champion Li Na eliminated 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-0.
In men's third-round action, the last of 15 Americans in the field lost, making this the first U.S. Open in history without at least one representative from the host country in the men's fourth round. Wild-card recipient Tim Smyczek, who is ranked 109th, was beaten 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 by Marcel Granollers of Spain.
It also means no U.S. man reached the fourth round at any of the four Grand Slam tournaments in 2013. Granollers, who is ranked 43rd, now takes on No. 1 Novak Djokovic, a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 winner over 95th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal.
In other 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.
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. Hewitt's next opponent is No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny, who eliminated 35-year-old Tommy Haas in four sets.
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." The same almost could have been said by Williams, whose match against Stephens was eagerly anticipated from the moment the draw came out 1½ weeks ago. At the outset, anyway, it lived up to the hype.
Stephens' highlight to date was a semifinal run at the Australian Open in January, when she stunned Williams in the quarterfinals. Only adding to Sunday's story line, Stephens has said some unflattering things about Williams, who has won 16 majors.
Williams opened Game 1 with an ace and closed it with a service winner. In Game 2, Stephens cranked a forehand winner down the line that drew gasps from the stands, and moments later, won a 24-stroke exchange thanks to fantastic retrieving.
Game 4 alone lasted 18 points over 11 minutes, and featured a booming service winner by Stephens, who also delivered a cross-court backhand winner to cap a 10-shot point. When that game ended, it wasn't yet time to change ends, but both women wandered over to the sideline to towel off.
Soon, Williams nosed ahead, breaking to 4-2 with a cross-court forehand return winner. But she handed a break right back in the next game by double-faulting on each of the last two points. After she held to 5-4, everything changed, and Stephens was mostly her own undoing. One point from making it 5-all, she rushed an easy forehand, pushing it long, and slumped her head and shoulders. Then she sailed another forehand long. And, finally, she sent a forehand wide. Just like that, Williams broke to take the first set.
Stephens made one last stand in the opening game of the second set, earning a break point. But Williams wound up holding with the help of a service winner and an ace. Stephens wouldn't get another break chance. Indeed, take away the one service game Williams lost — the one with the duo of double-faults — and she won 35 of 44 points she served.
Afterward, Stephens spoke about embracing others' expectations and her personal goal of moving into the top 10 in the rankings. She also spoke about Williams, of course, and kept returning to a concept that was rather clear on this day, saying more than once: "She's No. 1 in the world for a reason."
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