Serena Williams’ road to a U.S. Open championship match keeps getting shorter, and the potential speed bumps keep getting leveled.
Williams had little difficulty in dispatching Petra Martic, 6-3, 6-4, on Ashe Stadium Court on Sunday while a potent potential quarterfinal opponent, No. 2 seed and French Open champion Ashleigh Barty, was shown the door by Wang Qiang. The No. 3 seed also made an exit when Johanna Konta eliminated Karolina Pliskova. Elina Svitolina, the fifth seed, managed to advance past Madison Keys 7-5, 6-4.
The only minor concern for Williams was turning her right ankle as she came to the net for a drop volley winner in the fifth game of the second set. That led to a break of Martic’s serve, a 3-2 lead, and a bit of fright. She called a medical timeout to have the ankle taped.
The quality of Williams’ game hasn’t been an issue this season, but the fragility of her health, at age 37, has been. She has missed tournaments with a knee injury, had to pull out of the final in Montreal with back spasms and withdrew at Indian Wells with a virus.
Williams didn’t seem overly concerned about her ankle.
“I usually know if it's horrible early on. I mean, I had a really bad ankle sprain in January. I was like, instantly, No, this can't happen. I'm finally healthy,” Williams said. “But I'll see tomorrow. So far I'm good. I have been managing it. We'll see tomorrow.”
With two more top seeds out, Williams doesn’t see an open road to a title, in this case her 24th Grand Slam singles crown.
“I can't afford to look at it that way,” Williams said. “Every single match I have played, people come and they plan their best. The women that I play are not generally playing at this level against other players in the locker room, so for me, I have to be the greatest whether it's against the second seed, the No. 1 seed, or the No. 80 player in the world. I have to show up or else I'm going to go home.”
Next for Williams, the eighth seed, will be Qiang, the 18th seed. Qiang, winner of two WTA Tour events, has never gotten beyond the third round of a Grand Slam until this year. Qiang was set to play her first career match against Williams at the Miami Open this year, but Williams withdrew with a knee problem, handing Qiang a walk-over.
So will she be able to steel up her confidence for their quarterfinal match Tuesday?
“I don't know. Let's see,” she said with a wry smile.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, said: “I was very happy with today's match and also with the previous one, actually. I have no concerns at all. I'm quite happy.”