WHAT HAPPENED: Serena Williams, playing her finest match of the tournament so far, convincingly defeated the young American challenger Madison Keys to keep her Grand Slam quest alive and set up a quarterfinal meeting with her older sister Venus.
Williams, sharp and controlled throughout, served with near perfection to beat the eager and highly touted, 19th-ranked 20-year-old, 6-3, 6-3, in just over an hour. The match between the two Americans, in perfect conditions under a cloudless sky Sunday afternoon, was highly anticipated, as Keys is one of the few players on tour – perhaps the only one – who can match Serena for free-flowing power on the serve and forehand.
The match began as a hard-hitting server’s duel and was neck-and-neck until the seventh game, when Keys’s serve, so dialed in to that point, suddenly deserted her. Back-to-back double faults handed Williams the only break she would need to take the first set.
Both players continued to play offensive tennis in the second set. Williams, however, did not allow Keys even to reach deuce against her serve until 2-3 in the second set, and the world No. 1 did not face a single break point during the match.
“Playing Madison, she’s such a good player, and such a powerful player, she knows what to do and knows how to win big matches, so my only chance was to start out fast,” Williams told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez on court after the victory.
“I’m so proud that I was able to serve a lot better, and I had to, because Madison has a great serve, so I knew I wouldn’t have too many opportunities to break. I was like, ‘Serena, it’s now or never, you’ve got to get that serve together.’”
Williams played an exceedingly clean match, striking 18 winners and committing just six unforced errors.
WHAT IT MEANS: Serena had been sluggish and spotty early in her first three rounds, but against Keys she was alert, sharp and in great rhythm on her serve. Serena Williams advances to play her sister Venus for the 27th time (Serena holds a 15-11 advantage) and 14th time in a major (Serena, 8-5).
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Williams said about the Grand Slam. As for facing her older sister yet again, Serena said, “The only difference is we’re a lot older. I have to really be ready for that; I have to play like I did today, or better.”
The match with Keys was a reprise of their meeting in the semifinal at this year’s Australian Open, Keys’s best performance at a major thus far. Keys is a big-match player, achieving her best results at the Slams in 2015, another reason this appeared to be a match of interest and possible upset alert.
Yet Keys is still learning to harness her bountiful natural power, under the tutelage of former tour great Lindsay Daveport. Davenport has encouraged Keys to take her time and not rush in an effort to win Slams right now. Keys’s quest, unlike Serena’s, will have to wait.
THE QUESTION: If anyone can stop Serena from a seventh US Open crown, which would represent her 22nd major and the elusive Grand Slam, is it her sister Venus?