Serena Williams advanced to her 12th straight U.S. Open quarterfinal, beating Greek Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 in the fourth round on Monday.
Next up: fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a Bulgarian playing her first tournament in three years.
Williams, eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, battled past Sakkari after having her serve broken in the first game of the third set. She broke Sakkari three games later, then did it again to go up 5-3 before serving it out.
Williams served a 124 mile-per-hour ace late in the third set, fastest of the tournament.
Sakkari, the 15th seed, defeated Williams in three sets two weeks ago at the Western & Southern Open, also held at the U.S. Open grounds in New York. Williams thought about that match as she went to three sets on Monday.
“I was a little fatigued last time and had some cramps, but I felt like Maria played a completely — I felt like she almost played better today,” she said. “I’m not only match fit, I’m fit fit.”
The third seed Williams gets Pironkova in the quarters, looking to make her 11th straight U.S. Open semifinal (not counting years she was absent).
Pironkova, 32 and a 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist, beat Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in the fourth round on Monday. Pironkova won the first seven sets, all without tiebreaks, of her first event since 2017 Wimbledon and 2018 childbirth. She said that everything about being mother has helped her on court.
“Obviously, you become a different person,” said Pironkova, who returned to playing eight months ago. “You don’t focus on yourself that much anymore.
“I’m a lot more organized, as well. Mentally, I have more mental endurance, also. Physically, I know my body better.”
Williams is 4-0 against Pironkova, the last meeting in 2015.
“Playing such a champion, such a legend of the game, it’s tremendous honor, obviously,” Pironkova said. “I’m really looking forward to that match, because I know the feeling is going to be very special.”
Williams could play No. 2 Sofia Kenin in the semifinals and No. 4 Naomi Osaka in the final, the other remaining top-15 seeds.
She is one Grand Slam singles title shy of Margaret Court‘s record, though Williams owns the record in the Open Era since 1968 with professional participation.
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