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Sunday, September 4, 2011
Serena moves into quarters

By Viv Bernstein

NEW YORK -- That drama is sorely lacking in the women's draw at the U.S. Open was evident again on Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. There was Serena Williams in Arthur Ashe Stadium, facing Ana Ivanovic like a boxer in a title fight with a ballerina.

But if there is rarely any suspense with Williams' matches, nor, most likely, with the outcome of this Open fortnight as she closes in on a 14th Grand Slam title, there is surely a jaw-dropping awe that comes from watching her power and intensity and court dominance. Williams is, as always, entertaining to behold.

Monday was no different, although her graceful, balletic foe came with a bit of a counterpunch. The strategy for Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former No. 1-ranked player, was to step up and put pressure on Williams. It worked at times. But it was insufficient to defeat Williams, who was also battling the gusty winds at Ashe Stadium as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee approached.

Williams conquered them both. Her 6-3, 6-4 victory advances her to the quarterfinals and a match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat Francesca Schiavone earlier Monday. With Lee's rains on the way, the 28th-seeded Williams offered a lasting memory for fans who, if weather postpones the action, might not see much tennis for a while.

"It was so windy today," Williams said of the conditions. "It was crazy. I didn't even go for winners at one point. I was just trying to get it over because it was so windy. I thought, wow, it was definitely tough. It just kind of swirls down there. You just have to win in all kinds of situations.''

If the wind couldn't rattle her, it's hard to imagine an opponent who will. Maybe Williams knows that, too. She said she's moving as well as she did in 2010 after winning Wimbledon, before a foot injury began the series of ailments that led her to miss most of a year. That's all ancient history.

In a lighthearted press conference that covered her friendship with Spike Lee to karaoke -- she does a killer Rihanna, apparently -- Williams also joked about having no more space in her homes for another trophy, including the Florida house she shares with her sister, Venus.

"I would love to keep winning them,'' she said. "But we're like, 'Oh, what are we going to do with this one?'" She'll just have to figure that out.

Williams is now 16-0 on hard courts this summer, including tournament victories at Stanford, Calif., and Toronto, a run that is restoring order to the women's tennis hierarchy. It's Serena, and everybody else. At the Open, she has bulled her way past Bojana Jovanovski, Michaella Krajicek and Victoria Azarenka. The latter win, in the third round, came against the fourth seed here and a legitimate Grand Slam contender. Azarenka put up a second-set fight in a 6-1, 7-6 (5) loss to Williams, but there was never any real doubt about which player would pull it out.

The same was true against Ivanovic. This has been a resurgent tournament for the 16th seed, who has not been to a Grand Slam quarterfinal since winning the French Open in 2008. And had she played anyone but Williams, she might have had a fighting chance at getting there with the renewed confidence she's manifested since adding Nigel Sears as her coach in July.

Williams opened with a 3-0 lead in the first few minutes of the match. Ivanovic battled back, breaking Williams' serve in the fifth game to close to 3-2. But Williams was unrelenting. She broke back to take a 5-3 lead when Ivanovic double-faulted three times in the eighth game, including on break point.

After serving out the first set, Williams again broke Ivanovic's serve in the opening game of the second set. It was all she needed. With the end near, she hit a pair of aces, a service winner and a wicked crosscourt forehand to go up 5-3 in the second set. There was little Ivanovic could do in response. Williams served out for the win with ease.

"I didn't feel like I was getting blown off the court today," said Ivanovic, who blamed her eight double-faults in part on the windy conditions. "I really felt I created a lot of opportunities ... but she did play well. Like I said, I felt her serve held up more than mine did, and that was the difference."

The last time Serena Williams lost to a seeded player at the Open was in 2007, when she fell to No. 1 seed Justine Henin. Kim Clijsters was unseeded when she beat Serena in the now-infamous 2009 semifinals here.

There were no explosions of emotion by Williams on Monday. It was all very businesslike, save for a fist pump or two. Another seed down, another in the crosshairs. They are like notches on a belt for Williams. A heavyweight boxer's championship belt.

Revenge for Pavlyuchenckova

It was only appropriate that seventh seed Francesca Schiavone was broken on her serve in the final game of a marathon fourth-round match with Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at Ashe on Monday. There were 16 service breaks in the match, which lasted 2 hours, 41 minutes. Pavlyuchenkova was broken nine times.

But when it was over, the 17th-seeded Pavlyuchenkova had pulled off a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory to advance to the quarterfinals of a major for the second time in her career and second time this year, and avenge a loss to Schiavone at the French Open. Pavlyuchenkova had reached the quarterfinals of the French, only to lose to Schiavone after leading, 6-1, 4-1.

"I tried to be excessive aggressive," Pavyluckenkova said. "I was a set and 4-1 up at the French and I lost. She's always coming back, so I thought maybe I try do the same thing here."

Pavlyuchenkova, 20, is the youngest player remaining in the women's draw; Schiavone, 31, had been the oldest. The oldest now? Serena Williams, who will be 30 later this month.

Outside in

The winner of the quarterfinal between 25th-ranked Flavia Pennetta of Italy and 92nd-ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany will produce a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist. And it will also be only the sixth time since computer rankings began in 1975 that a player outside the top 20 advances to a U.S. Open semifinal.