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By Erik Gudris | Saturday, September 5, 2020

Once again, Serena Williams finds herself in the second week of the US Open.

The all-time great battled back to defeat the No. 26 seed Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It was intense, I have to say,” Willams said after the match. “We always have some incredible matches. It brings out the best in my fitness when I play Sloane, she’s obviously a great player. She’s won on this court. She’s had every big win you can think of.”

The No. 3 seed Williams entered the third-round match against Stephens not having faced her opponent in five years. A lot had happened in those years in-between their last meeting in French Open fourth round that Williams won. Williams, after winning the Australian Open in 2017, came back to the tour after giving birth to her daughter Olympia. Stephens herself won the US Open title in 2017.

Both women entered this year’s US Open searching for the kind of momentum that could possibly take them to yet another US Open title. In the early stages of the match, it seemed Stephens might end up the winner.

Stephens, using her steady backcourt defensive game, looked more comfortable inside the nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium. Stephens secured the first service break after Williams sent a forehand wide while down break point.

Stephens, later ahead at 4-2, earned another service break after Williams struck another backhand error. Now, Stephens led 5-2.

With a convincing service hold at love, Stephens closed out the first 6-2.

Stephens at this point had 11 winners, only five unforced errors, and only lost seven points on her serve.

Williams, at the start of the match, tried to hit outright winners to end points. But as the second set wore on, she started playing more neutral tennis to keep the rallies going before finding her opportunities. And that soon paid dividends.

The seventh game of the second set proved key for both players. Stephens, serving down 2-3, fought off one break point with a great forehand winner. Yet Williams would force the issue again to create another break point. This time, Stephens struck a forehand wide giving Williams the break for 4-2.

Williams took advantage of Stephens’ drop in the level of her play.

A few games later, Williams directed another forehand into the open right corner of the court that allowed her to break Stephens again and take the second set 6-2.

The third set became all about who would take control early and not let go of the opportunity.

At 2-1, Williams once again stayed in control of the baseline rallies. She soon earned another break to go ahead 3-1. Williams trailed 0-30 in her next service game, but then she would push herself to 30-all, and then with a second serve ace out wide, get to 40-30. From there, she held for 4-1.

Williams didn’t let go of her control in the match. She soon broke Stephens in the final game to secure the hard fought three set win that puts her back into yet another US Open fourth round. After the match, Williams enjoyed seeing her daughter in the stands.

Stephens spoke about Williams’ serving afterward.

“Yeah, I thought she raised her level on her serve. I thought she served a lot better. Obviously she has one of the greatest serves in the game. It's really difficult to read. Yeah, definitely something that I thought was a little bit trickier, but I just tried to get my racquet on a lot of the balls and make her play as best I could.”

Next up for Williams is Maria Sakkari who defeated her last week at the Western and Southern Open. The 15th seeded Sakkari, when asked about the potential rematch with Williams said.

“You know, Serena is Serena (smiling). You have to come up with some great tennis," Sakkari said. "Otherwise there is no chance against her. So the keys were to stay, to make the match as physical as I could. That's most like the tactic with most of the players that I play. Basically, you know, you never know what you're going to get with Serena, because she can come up with some amazing game and amazing shots.”


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