Serena Williams watches a return to Carla Suarez Navarro, of Spain, during a quarterfinal of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
by Howard Fendrich
AP Tennis Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — From an ace on the first point to a stinging return on the last, Serena Williams was close to perfect in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
The score said it all Tuesday night: 6-0, 6-0.
Yes, Williams is looking better and better with each match at the year’s last Grand Slam tournament. With two more wins — no matter the exact scores — she’ll earn a fifth title at Flushing Meadows and 17th major championship overall.
The No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams shut out 18th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, the first “double bagel” in a quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows since 1989, when 18-time major title winner Martina Navratilova did it to Manuela Maleeva.
“When you play against Serena,” Suarez Navarro said, “you know these things can happen.”
Williams won 53 of 71 points and dominated pretty much every statistical category. The first set took all of 19 minutes. The second was slower, lasting 33 minutes, but no less lopsided.
Serena Williams pumps her fist after winning a point against Carla Suarez Navarro, of Spain, during a quarterfinal of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Williams was asked whether she’d describe her performance as close to flawless.
“Of course not,” the defending champion said with a laugh. “I played good, though. I played really good. I was just more focused than anything. You know, I like to believe there is room for improvement.”
That might be bad news for her opponent in Friday’s semifinals, 2011 French Open champion Li Na of China.
Asked in an on-court interview if her game is peaking, Williams replied: “No. Not yet. I hope not. I’m just trying to do the best that I can.”
Through five matches, Williams has dropped a total of 13 games so far. For comparison’s sake, know this: Suarez Navarro lost more games than that in her previous match alone, 15, while eliminating No. 8 Angelique Kerber.
That victory, and her seeding, should have demonstrated that Suarez Navarro is quite capable of playing well, too.
But not on this evening. Not against Williams, who is 65-4 with eight titles in 2013.
Going back to the start of Wimbledon last year, the 31-year-old American is 96-5 with 13 trophies, including from three of the past five Grand Slam tournaments plus the London Olympics.
“The conditions were so tough, so it definitely was not her best tennis today,” Williams said about Suarez Navarro, who was playing in her third career major quarterfinal Tuesday, which happened to be her 25th birthday.
Tough conditions, huh? That swirling wind in Arthur Ashe Stadium sure did not appear to bother Williams one bit. She wound up with a 20-3 edge in winners. She made fewer unforced errors, 12-9. She won 23 of 26 points on first serves.
“I’ve been playing here for, like, 50 years,” Williams said with a laugh. “I’ve kind of gotten used to the conditions. Even though it’s difficult to play each year, I’m getting a little bit better with it.”
When Williams did face a break point for the first time, 42 minutes and 11 games into the match, she came up with a big serve and raced forward for a simple putaway that she punctuated with a yell.
Moments later came a second break chance, but even with Williams stumbling to the court, Suarez Navarro dumped the ball into the net.
It was that kind of night.
“She’s the best player in the sport,” Suarez Navarro said. “When you look at the draw, you don’t want to see Serena there.”
Before the match, picturing in her mind what it might be like to step out in the largest arena in Grand Slam tennis, under the lights at night, against Williams, Suarez Navarro came up with a couple of possible scenarios.
“I imagined a movie in which I won. I also imagined a movie in which I played well, but she ended up winning,” she said. “I was dreaming so many things.”
After their quick-as-can-be match, defending men’s champion Andy Murray went into Ashe and encountered some problems along the way to a 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over 65th-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the fourth round.
Ahead 5-3 in the opening tiebreaker, Murray dropped four points in a row. Serving for the second set at 5-1, Murray hit a volley-lob that Istomin tracked down and, back to the net, sent back with a between-the-legs shot. What should have been an easy tap-in winner became a flubbed volley, and Murray put his hand to his face. But he wound up taking that game, and was on his way to improving to 30-2 over his last five Grand Slam tournaments.
Next for Murray is a quarterfinal against No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka. A day after his Swiss Davis Cup teammate and friend, Roger Federer, lost, Wawrinka reached the round of eight at the U.S. Open for the second time by beating No. 5 Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-2 in Louis Armstrong Stadium at night.
In the afternoon, top-seeded Novak Djokovic won 45 of 53 service points while eliminating 43rd-ranked Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in a grand total of only 79 minutes.
Djokovic, who won the 2011 U.S. Open and lost in last year’s final to Murray, reached his 18th consecutive major quarterfinal.
Now comes a match against 21st-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, who was two points from defeat but came back to edge two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5.
All eight men’s quarterfinalists are from Europe: Serbia’s Djokovic, Britain’s Murray, Switzerland’s Wawrinka, Russia’s Youzhny on one half of the draw, and Spain’s Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo, along with France’s Richard Gasquet on the other half.
Earlier Tuesday, the fifth-seeded Li needed nearly 2½ hours to get past 24th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
On three occasions, Li went up a break in the second set, nearing eventual victory each time, but could not finish things. She then was up 3-0 in the tiebreaker before faltering. Still, she recovered well and closed the match by taking the last four games, then joked that she would grab a bag of chips and enjoy watching Williams against Suarez Navarro.
Regardless of who she’d face next, Li made the point that what would be important is to focus on herself.
“I mean, if you only think about what (your) opponent (is) doing, of course you already lose the match before you come to the court,” Li said. “For tennis you have to figure out what you have to do on the court, what you should do.”
Li has only won one of nine career matches against Williams heading into Friday.
“Tough, tough opponent,” Li said. “But is (a) good challenge to play against her.”
The quarterfinals on the other half of the draw are Wednesday: second-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus against 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, and 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci against 83rd-ranked Flavia Pennetta in a matchup between two Italians in their 30s.
While the other women in that section all advanced Monday, Azarenka’s fourth-round match against 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic was postponed until Tuesday at 11 a.m. because of rain. Azarenka got off to a slow start, but eventually got going and beat the 13th-seeded Ivanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a topsy-turvy match with a combined 16 service breaks and 17 double-faults.
“I think,” two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka said, “we’re just great returners.”
Lamented Ivanovic: “I felt like I could break her, but it was very frustrating that I was losing my serve constantly.”
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