Women's wrap: Friday, Aug 30
World No 1 Serena Williams will have the chance to avenge her ouster from the Australian Open when she faces Sloane Stephens on Sunday in an emotional fourth-round showdown at the US Open.
Defending champion Williams, whose relationship with Stephens was strained after the prodigy upset the 16-time Grand Slam champion at Melbourne, advanced early Saturday by beating 78th-ranked Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 6-1.
"It's going to be tough," Williams said. "Sloane is playing so well. I'm always so happy for her. She's doing great. I'm really proud of Sloane. It's going to be a really good match."
US 15th seed Stephens eliminated US 23rd seed Jamie Hampton 6-1, 6-3, Friday and now faces the superstar she accused of disrespectful intimidation tactics and mind games for a quarterfinal berth on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.
"It'll be epic and something a lot of people will be looking forward to," Stephens said. "I'm excited about it."
Williams, who at 31 could become the oldest US Open women's champion, and Stephens have not played since the 20-year-old phenom beat the four-time US Open champion 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in an Australian Open quarterfinal last January.
Stephens was friendly with Williams a year ago at New York but the relationship soured after Williams beat her in a Brisbane quarterfinal 6-4, 6-3 and then suffered the shock Grand Slam defeat.
Williams did not refer to Stephens by name after the Brisbane match and Stephens later derided that, plus her rival's loud screams of "Come on" during their matches and even that Williams had dropped off her list of Twitter followers.
Stephens now says the relationship has been repaired.
"Love her," Stephens said. "We're all good. We're competitors, co-workers. It's definitely tough but now we're in a good place. That's all old news now and we've moved on. We're fine. I think that's all that matters."
When it comes to the spat, Stephens she has learned from it but also has no regrets about her comments, either.
"Stay true to yourself and that's all you can do. A lot of lessons learned," she said. "I don't regret anything and I'm happy with where I'm at right now."
Stephens, ousted by eventual winner Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open semifinals, credits the challenge of facing Williams with sparking her to the French Open fourth round and Wimbledon quarterfinals later in the year.
"I needed to feel her taking the ball early, hitting aces, making her shots. I think that was able to help me all year," Stephens said.
"It was very important for me the first time to just get out there and be like, 'OK, it's not as scary as I thought.'"
For her part, Williams praised Stephens during her run to the French Open title, again at Wimbledon after she crashed out before Stephens and this week.
"She's such a good player and she's so smooth," Williams said. "She just has this game and this confidence that's not easy to get. It's so good to see her doing so well. It's an honour to watch, really."
Stephens takes such remarks in stride.
"Coming from one of the greatest players to ever play the game, that feels really good. It's awesome," Stephens said. "But if you don't really live up to it, it's a wash."
Trying to do that will spice their US Open matchup.
"She is a fierce competitor. She's going to bring it to you every single time. I love her fight," Stephens said.
"She's No 1 in the world for a reason. She's very aggressive. She stays on top of you, doesn't give you any room to breathe. She's intense."
Rising US player Sloane Stephens took care of business against Fed Cup teammate and friend Jamie Hampton, powering her way to a 6-1 6-3 victory to earn a place in the round of 16 at the US Open on Friday.
In a showcase between two players among a promising group of emerging US women, 15th seed Stephens used a combination of bigger groundstrokes and more accurate serves to charge past an error-prone Hampton in 63 minutes.
"I just tried to play my best. It's tough playing Jamie, a good friend. Definitely a tough match to come out here on Ashe," said 20-year-old Stephens. "I just tried to stay focused and do my best and luckily got the 'W'."
Stephens, who burst into the international spotlight by upsetting Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and reached the last eight at Wimbledon, benefitted from 34 unforced errors from Hampton.
Stephens, who also reached the fourth round at Roland Garros for the second successive year, put 70 percent of her first serves into play, while Hampton found the range on less than half of her first deliveries, putting her on the defensive.
Hampton, ranked 26th, broke serve in the sixth game of the second set to put it back on serve at 3-3, but at 30-30 in the next game she missed a backhand overhead volley and Stephens broke her one point later and did not lose another game.
Hampton, 23, had enjoyed an impressive stretch on tour, beating two seeded players at the French Open including 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to reach the fourth round. She made it to the Eastbourne final on grass and the semifinals on the hard courts of Stanford.
The Americans had last played in the first round at Wimbledon, with Stephens winning 6-3 6-3.
Next up for Stephens could be another all-American clash as she faces either defending champion Williams orYaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan.
Stephens said her approach going forward would remain simple.
"Just play my best, play my game," she said. "All you can do is do your best and that's what I'm going to count on."
LI NA UPSETS LAURA ROBSON
Chinese fifth seed Li Na advanced to the fourth round of the US Open smacking 11 aces in a 6-2, 7-5 victory over British teen Laura Robson.
Li avenged a third-round loss to Robson in last year's tournament and will next face either Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara or Serbian ninth seed Jelena Jankovic for a berth in the quarterfinals.
"I was really happy how I was hitting on the court," Li said. "And I thought I served really well."
Connecting on 65 per cent of her first serves and winning all nine points when she came to the net, the 2011 French Open winner took control early and kept it most of the match.
Li said that even her coach, former Justine Henin mentor Carlos Rodriguez, would have to say he liked her effort, even though she said he would have a different message for her during practice.
"He would think I can come even more to the net," she said.
Li broke Robson to open the match and again in the fifth game on her way to capturing the first set after 29 minutes, aided by 15 Robson unforced errors.
Robson broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set when Li sent a forehand wide but Li broke back in the fifth and again in the penultimate game for a victory that came after 81 minutes when Li swatted a second-serve ace.
Robson, 19, failed to match her best Slam showings, which came last year when she made the last 16 by beating Li and in July at Wimbledon.
In New York, she was the first British woman to be seeded at a Grand Slam since Jo Durie at the 1987 Australian Open.
Li, 31, seeks her eighth career crown and second of the year after a home-soil title at Shenzhen.
"I'm still young," Li said. "I can do even more hard work."
JAPANESE QUALIFIER'S DREAM RUN ENDED BY BY JANKOVIC
Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara, who had never before reached the third round in any tour-level event, saw her US Open run ended with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) loss to Serbian ninth seed Jelena Jankovic.
Nara, ranked 109th, became the first Japanese woman in the third round of the US Open since Ai Sugiyama in 2008 but failed to become the first in the last 16 since Shinobu Asagoe made the 2004 quarterfinals.
The 21-year-old college student from Osaka will take home $93 000 from the year's final Grand Slam tournament. That's more than the $61 255 she had won this year before reaching the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.
Nara's only prior Grand Slam appearances were a 2010 second-round Wimbledon effort and a first-match loss at the 2010 French Open.
Jankovic and Nara exchanged early service breaks in the match but the Serbian star broke her at love in the final game of the first set.
Nara answered by opening the second set with a break, trading breaks with Jankovic in the fourth and fifth games, and broke her again in the seventh.
But serving for the set, Nara netted a backhand to surrender a break in the eighth game.
Jankovic held and in the pivotal 10th game denied a set point for Nara with a backhand winner on the way to breaking Nara and they traded breaks in the final two games to reach the tie-breaker.
Two points from forcing a third set at 5-5, Nara netted a forehand and a backhand to fall after one hour and 53 minutes.
Victories over two Romanians, Alexandra Cadantu and 19th seed Sorana Cirstea, were the first back-to-back main draw triumphs of Nara's career.
RADWANSKA DOWNS PAVLYUCHENKOVA
The ultra-consistent Agnieszka Radwanska wore down Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 7-6 (1) to reach the fourth round, continuing her impressive streak at this year's grand slams.
The third seeded Radwanksa survived some anxious moments against Pavlyuchenkova before sealing victory in 73 minutes.
She will play Sabine Lisicki or Ekaterina Makarova in the round of 16.
If she wins her next match, the Pole will become the only woman to reach the quarterfinals at all four grand slams this year.