Yet to be challenged even a tiny bit at this U.S. Open, Serena Williams now gets a sure-to-be-hyped match against one of only three women to beat her all year, Sloane Stephens.
From the moment the women’s draw came out at Flushing Meadows, it was clear which potential fourth-rounder was the most intriguing: defending champion Williams against up-and-coming talent Stephens.
“As I always say, I think it will be epic,” Stephens said. “I’m really looking forward to it. See what happens.”
And that statement came hours before Williams even had advanced out of the third round by beating 78th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-1, in a match that wrapped up at 1:05 a.m. Saturday.
“I’m so excited you guys stayed out for the late-night rendezvous. Thank you, guys, for staying,” Williams told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd. “I don’t think I’ve ever played this late.”
She has dropped a total of eight games through six sets this week. Against Shvedova, she hit serves at up to 119 mph, and produced a 22-3 edge in winners.
Much, much earlier, on a ho-hum afternoon devoid of any truly significant surprises, Stephens reached the round of 16 in New York for the first time by beating 23rd-seeded American Jamie Hampton, 6-1, 6-3.
“Serena is the No. 1 player in the world. She’s possibly the greatest player of all time. Sloane is Sloane. You know, she’s making her own name. She’s top 20 in the world for a reason,” Hampton said. “They’re both great players, both great competitors.”
William’s match against Shvedova began at nearly midnight because it followed 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt’s stirring 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 comeback victory over 2009 winner Juan Martin del Potro, which lasted more than four hours.
It was the ninth time in the last 10 years that two previous title winners faced each other in New York; Hewitt was a participant in three of those in the past, going 0-3.
The 32-year-old Australian, a former No. 1 now ranked 66th after a series of injuries, repeatedly scrambled along the baseline to come up with passing winners against the sixth-seeded del Potro.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve got left in me. I keep getting asked the question,” said Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002. “I’m just pumped to get out on this court and try to put on a great show.”
Earlier, two other U.S. Open winners, defending champion Andy Murray and top-seeded Novak Djokovic, experienced only brief lulls before staying on course for a possible showdown in the semifinals.
About 40 minutes into his match, Djokovic faced two set points, but he erased those thanks to errors by his opponent, and after adjusting to the swirling wind, wound up defeating 87th-ranked Benjamin Becker, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-2. Murray dropped a set, yelled at himself after some awkward miscues, but finished well, taking the last five games of his 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 victory over 81st-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina.
During the day session, the only seeded man to bow out was No. 17 Kevin Anderson, a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 loser against 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, while all seven women’s matches were decided in two sets. Winners included 2011 French Open champion Li Na, 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska, and 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Jelena Jankovic.