Wed, Jun 03, 2015 - Page 20 News List

Williams hangs on to defeat Stephens

BIG FOUR:The biggest names in men’s tennis — Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray — all won their matches to secure their places in the French Open quarter-finals

AP, PARIS

Serena Williams of the US returns to compatriot Sloane Stephens in their women’s fourth-round match during the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris on Monday.

Photo: AFP

For the third match in a row at the French Open, Serena Williams was oddly out of sorts at the outset and dropped the opening set.

And for the third match in a row, almost as though this was the plan all along, Williams righted herself to pull out a victory.

In a riveting, two-hour showdown between the last two US female players in the draw, the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams was a game away from defeat on Monday, then came back to beat Sloane Stephens 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Williams reached the quarter-finals and avoided joining defending champion Maria Sharapova on the way out of Roland Garros.

“It’s not how you start, I guess. It’s how you finish,” Williams said. “That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”

Close as it was, thanks in large part to Williams’ 43 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Stephens’ 21, the eventual outcome seemed certain once Williams pulled even by taking the second set.

That was because she is 10-0 in three-setters this season.

Williams is 29-1 overall this year and owns an 18-match Grand Slam winning streak, including championships at the US Open and Australian Open that gave her 19 major singles trophies.

The 1999 US Open, when she collected her first major title, is the only other time Williams came back to win three straight matches after losing the first set, according to the WTA.

“There’s a reason,” said Stephens, defeated in the French Open’s fourth round for the fourth consecutive year, “why she’s the No. 1 player in the world.”

Either Williams, in 2013, or Sharapova, in 2012 and last year, have won the French Open the past three years. Only Williams has a chance to do it again on Saturday after Sharapova was eliminated by Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic on Monday.

“My opponent had a different gear than I did,” Sharapova said after her earliest exit at Roland Garros since 2010.

Sharapova did not use the cold she had been dealing with as an excuse, saying: “I don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t think it really makes a difference.”

In her first French Open quarterfinal, Safarova is to face No. 21 Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who beat No. 28 Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-3, 6-4.

On a day full of tennis’ biggest names, the big four of the men’s game — Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray — all won. The top-seeded Djokovic and nine-time French Open champion Nadal are to play in the quarter-finals today, a rematch of last year’s final.

Nadal eliminated the last US man, Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, while Djokovic had no trouble in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet.

Federer next faces Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka, and Murray is to play 2013 French Open runner-up David Ferrer.

Williams’ quarter-final opponent is 2012 runner-up Sara Errani, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Julia Goerges.

The winner of Williams-Errani is to go up against someone making her Grand Slam semi-final debut, because it will either be 23rd-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland — who surprised two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 2-6, 6-0, 6-3 — or 100th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.

The 40th-ranked Stephens, who is 22, knew she could compete with the 33-year-old Williams, having defeated her in the 2013 Australian Open quarter-finals.

Before taking the court on Monday, Stephens shared a moment in the hallway with her coach, Nick Saviano. They bumped fists, and he patted her on the right shoulder.

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