A screaming drive from Serena Williams sent Madison Keys sprinting near the sideline and sliding into a split in pursuit of the blurring ball.
A spirited exchanged ended with Keys casting an impressed glance across the net at the world No. 1, who was giving nothing away and already gearing up for the next point.
In a highly-anticipated all-American clash, Keys made every effort to stay in step. But the top seed put her in places she didn’t want to be and ultimately ran her right off the court.
Moving quickly and striking with conviction, the reigning US Open champion played her cleanest tennis of the tournament sweeping Keys, 6-3, 6-3, to extend her Grand Slam winning streak to 32 matches.
It was Serena’s 25th consecutive US Open victory and vaulted her into an all-Williams quarterfinal with older sister Venus—their fifth career Flushing Meadows meeting. Serena holds a 15-11 lead in their head-to-head series, including a 6-4, 6-3 triumph in the Wimbledon fourth round two months ago.
“The only difference is that we’re a lot older,” Serena told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez in her on-court interview. “She’s playing well. I barely had time to get ready for my match today, she played so fast. I was absolutely hoping she’d lose a few games for the first time. A Williams will be in the semis so that’s good.”
The 23rd-seeded Venus powered past 152nd-ranked Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-1, roaring into her first Flushing Meadows quarterfinal in five years.
Big sister could spoil Serena’s quest for the calendar Slam, but Venus isn’t viewing their Tuesday night reunion that way.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler,” Venus said. “I think people love to see history being made, I think. No one is out to be a spoiler, but at the same time, you’re focused on winning your match even though the circumstances are really much different than you.”
This second encounter between two of the most imposing servers in the sport played out much differently than their first meeting in Melbourne. Tested in the first set of that match, Williams settled in conquering Keys, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the Australian Open semifinals.
The top seed set the tone on serve today.
Slowing the start of her service motion slightly and accelerating up and out into the court, Williams was in rhythm on serve from the start blasting a 119 mph ace to hold in the opening game.
Williams knocked off a high forehand volley holding at love for 4-3. She permitted only four points in her first four service games. Keys was hanging close to that point, but a sloppy two-double fault game gifted the break to the top seed who snatched a 5-3 lead. Movement was key to this match. Williams is quicker around the court and is sharper changing direction. Sliding into a sneaker-squeaking forehand she earned set point. When Keys sailed a forehand return, Williams wrapped up her most complete set of the tournament.
The 20-year-old Illinois native didn’t play poorly, she was just overmatched by an opponent who refused to miss. Williams committed just six unforced errors compared to 19 for her opponent.
“She was playing really really well today,” Keys said of Williams. “I feel like I had to play my absolute best. It was one of those things where if I wasn’t hitting a winner, I feel like she was. She wasn’t giving me many unforced errors. “I think overall I did everything good. I don’t think I did anything really great, which I think to beat Serena when she’s playing well, you have to do a lot of things great.”
Tested by her younger adversary in the sixth game, Williams held at 30 unleashing her loudest “come on!” of the day, leveling the set at 3-all. Blowing a 40-15 lead, Keys sailed a backhand beyond the baseline and squealed at the miscue. Displaced by a Williams backhand return, Keys spit a backhand reply into net as Williams broke for 4-3.
A 121 mph missile down the middle closed the next game as Williams backed up the break at 15. On match point, Keys tripped her sixth double fault of the day off the tape ending a highly-anticipated clash with an anti-climactic clunker as Serena set up an all-Williams sisters quarterfinal.
The Williams sisters’ longevity is such that former rivals now revisit their matches as coaches.
Hall of Famer Martina Hingis, whose mother Melanie coaches Belinda Bencic, was in the box when Venus beat the No. 12-seeded Bencic in the third round. Today Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport, Keys’ coach, provided an encouraging presence in the player box.
There was a time when the Williams sisters US Open clashes were conducted beneath the bright white lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium in Saturday night finals played on prime-time television. Back in those days, the shiny silver U.S. Open trophy always seemed to end up on display in the trophy case of the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida home they’ve shared.
The sisters combined to claim four consecutive US Open championships from 1999 to 2002. When Serena reclaimed the title with a 6-4, 6-3 win in the 2002 final it seemed completely conceivable they could to match Ivan Lendl’s streak of eight straight US Open finals.
Though that didn’t happen, their next reunion reinforces the fact staying power is one of their shared strengths.
“I feel like that’s what we always wanted growing up, just to be out there on the big stage duking it out when someone named Williams will win,” Venus said. “That’s a given on that one.”