US Open: Serena Williams battles to hard-fought win over Sloane Stephens
The 23-time Grand Slam winner came from a set down against the world No 39 to reach the fourth round
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 06/09/20 8:14am
Serena Williams' quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title continues as she battled from a set down to beat Sloane Stephens 2-6 6-2 6-2 in the third round of the US Open.
Williams, who has been stuck on 23 titles since winning the 2017 Australian Open, showed considerable fortitude to grapple with her nerves and turn the third-round match on its head.
The victory not only keeps her quest to equal Margaret Court's record alive, but it sets up a tantalising re-match with Maria Sakkari in the fourth round.
Sakkari beat Williams last week at the Western & Southern Open, despite the 23-time Grand Slam winner having the chance to serve for the match.
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Early on Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, looked comfortable and composed. She moved Williams all over the court and it looked as if she would prevail over her compatriot for the first time in seven years.
In contrast, Williams' nerves manifested themselves in the form of unforced errors and missed first serves.
With a wealth of the seeded players watching from their suites housed in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, including Victoria Azarenka, Naomi Osaka and Sakkari, the opening set raced away from Williams.
The lineup tomorrow on the women's side 👀— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2020
🇺🇸 Brady vs Kerber 🇩🇪
🇰🇿 Putintseva vs Martic 🇭🇷
🇯🇵 Osaka vs Kontaveit 🇪🇪
🇺🇸 Rogers vs Kvitova 🇨🇿
🇫🇷 Cornet vs Pironkova 🇧🇬
🇬🇷 Sakkari vs S. Williams 🇺🇸
🇧🇾 Azarenka vs Muchova 🇨🇿
🇧🇪 Mertens vs Kenin 🇺🇸
Stephens moved Williams over the baseline and made the most of her opponent making just 50 per cent of her first serves.
With the weight of history on her shoulders, and clearly unhappy with the level of tennis she was playing, Williams raised her intensity in the second set.
She was boosted by the fact that her first serve percentage increase drastically to 76 per cent, and started to be the aggressor in the longer rallies.
After securing the set 6-2, Williams maintained her hold on her opponent and raced to a 4-1 lead in the decider. From that position, and with a record of winning 14 of 18 deciding sets at the US Open, Williams charged to victory.
Williams' fourth-round opponent, Sakkari, needed just 55 minutes to beat Amanda Anisimova earlier in the day inside the Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Sakkari made just eight unforced errors during the 6-3 6-1 encounter, while Anisimova notched up 28 unforced errors and just four winners.
Sakkari is the first Greek woman in the second week at the US Open for 16 years, Eleni Daniilidou was the last back in 2004.