Serena, Stephens reach US Open quarterfinals

Serena Williams of the US celebrates during her women's singles match against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia on Day 7 of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

That was the first set she had lost against Kanepi of the 10 they'd played to that point, and the first set Williams had lost at the 2018 US Open, a run that included a 6-16-2 victory over her older sister Venus in the third round Friday night.

World number three Stephens has settled nicely into her role as defending champion, approaching each match with a new swagger and with plenty of support from the home crowd.

Stephens was a comfortable 6-3 6-3 victor over Elise Mertens in the last 16 as the Belgian delivered an error-strewn display on Ashe. "Quarter-finals of a Grand Slam is always really tough. Coming back from a baby is hard, harder than I thought".

Williams looked set for a romp when she seized the first set from Kanepi in just 18 minutes.

There were fears that the match would be over in a flash, but Kanepi put her finger on the reset button and flew out the traps in the second set, breaking on her way to a 2-0 lead.

With the Spanish legend in her corner for the fortnight, Pliskova acquired another voice of positivity. A couple of loose points gifted Kanepi a break in the first game of the second set, however, and she couldn't get back on terms.

In the third set, in another momentum shift, Williams appeared to settle down again, moving through the games relatively well for the 6-3 result to take the match and earn her ticket to the quarterfinals. Her serve got her out of a lot of trouble, 18 aces draining the unseeded Estonian's spirit.

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"She came out strong and she came out very well", said the 23-time major victor. And the 36-year-old American began making more and more mistakes.

Williams felt the start of the second was the turning point, saying: "I made one or two crucial errors and that cost me the second set, or at least cost me the first game".

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There will be another rematch in the last eight between defending champion Sloane Stephens and Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova.

"I know she has a big game, but I have a big game too".

Next comes a quarterfinal against 2016 runner-up Karolina Pliskova, who beat Williams in the US Open semifinals that year. After returning to competition in March after the birth of daughter Olympia last September, Williams is trying to avoid her first season since 2011 without a Grand Slam title. "I have watched her a great deal since then". Stevens breaks with five walks in the quarter-finals, where they will play against Elina Svitolina offender Anastasiya Sevastopol.

"Serena is probably the best player that I have ever seen on a tennis court on the women's tour", Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 men's seed, said after his four-set win. "I hope to be ready to make that happen".

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