Serena Williams pulled off another comeback win at the US Open on Monday, ensuring the weakened grand slam event didn’t lose a legendary player for a second consecutive day.
Williams trailed familiar foe Maria Sakkari by a break early in the third set before turning the tables for a 6-3 6-7 (6) 6-3 victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach the quarterfinals at a grand slam for a 53rd time, tying Martina Navratilova for second on the all-time women’s list.
One of the most dramatic moments in grand slam history unfolded on the same court a day earlier as men’s world No. 1 and 17-time major winner Novak Djokovic was defaulted when he hit a ball that struck a line judge.
The hard-court major in New York was already missing Djokovic’s two main rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who stayed away for different reasons. Federer is recovering from knee surgery while Nadal cited coronavirus concerns and is preparing for the French Open.
In the women’s draw, the two highest-ranked players, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, skipped New York due to coronavirus concerns.
But in Williams, the US Open arguably has the biggest star of them all and the 38-year-old remains in contention to collect a record-tying 24th grand slam title.
Victories for Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova on the eighth day of action at Flushing Meadows mean that, along with Williams, there will be three moms in the quarterfinals of a grand slam for the first time.
That trio was joined by Elise Mertens in the final eight after the Belgian defeated reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-3 6-3 on Monday.
Sakkari took lead in third
Sakkari had defeated Williams at the warmup Western & Southern Open in three sets. In that one, too, she won a second-set tiebreak.
And when Greece’s top-ranked female player led 2-0 in the decider, it appeared as if the 15th seed was on course to become the first player since Justine Henin in 2007 to get the better of Williams – excluding a retirement – in back-to-back tournaments.
Williams, though, has won 23 majors for a reason.
Her game picked up and the desire, as ever, was there.
She broke for 2-2 and then again for 5-3. After forcing Sakkari into an error on match point, Williams let out a loud roar, which resonated even more since there are no fans at this year’s tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams wasn’t as close to exiting in the previous round but trailed 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens by a set.
She will face Pironkova in the last eight. Williams owns a 4-0 record against the Bulgarian, who is contesting her first tournament in three years.
Pironkova also lost a second-set tiebreak against France’s Alize Cornet before progressing 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-3.
Mertens and Azarenka, who is bidding to win her first grand slam since 2013 after coming from behind to defeat Karolina Muchova 5-7 6-1 6-4, will contest another quarterfinal later this week.
Thiem, Medvedev advance
The men’s singles competition is now wide open following Djokovic’s exit, and two of the favorites to win a first ever grand slam – the tournament’s second and third seeds Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev – both won Monday.
Thiem, who was beaten by Djokovic in the Australian Open final earlier this year, overcame Felix Auger-Aliassime, who had previously ousted former US Open champion Andy Murray in the second round.
World No. 3 Thiem next faces Alex de Minaur – like Auger-Aliassime, another young player enjoying a best ever run at a grand slam having overcome Vasek Pospisil in straight sets.
Meanwhile, Medvedev and Andrey Rublev will contest an all-Russian quarterfinal.
Medvedev, a finalist at last year’s US Open, cruised past Frances Tiafoe 6-4 6-1 6-0, while Rublev dropped the first set against Matteo Berrettini before rallying to win 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3.