n Labor Day weekend, Serena Williams was in no mood for working overtime.
A committed Kaia Kanepi dragged her the distance anyway.
It began with a bagel and escalated into a battle before Williams blazed through service games closing a 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 victory to charge into her 15th US Open quarterfinal and 49th career major quarterfinal.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion’s straight-sets stomping of older sister Venus Williams in round three was a statement win.
Today, Williams’ declarative serve and stubborn will helped her work through a tricky test.
The 17th-seeded American thumped eight of her 18 aces in the final set subduing Kanepi for the fifth time in as many meetings.
“It wasn’t easy, obviously, but I feel like, you know, I think one thing she did well was change her strategy and started doing just completely different game and gave me a different look to her game.” Williams said. “So it wasn’t like my level went down tremendously. It was one or two points that made a huge difference in that second set.”
Continuing her quest for an Open Era record seventh US Open championship, Williams confronts another stiff challenge when she faces Karolina Pliskova—the last woman to beat her in New York—for a spot in the final four.
The eighth-seeded Pliskova did not drop serve defeating Australian Ashleigh Barty, 6-4, 6-4, powering into her third consecutive US Open quarterfinal.
Former world No. 1 Pliskova possesses the flame-thrower serve and fierce power to upset Williams as she did two years ago en route to the Flushing Meadows final where she fell to Angelique Kerber in a three-set final.
The 6′ Czech power player says she has the self-belief—and strong weapons—necessary to stun Serena again.
“I know she was the best at that time, but I just wanted to win,” Pliskova said of her 6-2, 7-6 (5), victory two years ago. “So that’s why I won, because I believed I have a chance. I have a game to beat her. That’s what I would like to do if she’s there this time, too.
“Because anyway I know she has a big game, but I have a big game too. I have a good serve. So I have some weapons, too. So, for sure, there is always a chance for me.”
Given Kanepi upset world No. 1 Simona Halep in the opening round on Louis Armstrong Stadium and had not dropped a set reaching the fourth round, you might think the 2017 US Open quarterfinalist would come out striking with conviction against Williams today, right?
The 33-year-old Estonian was winless in all eight of the prior sets between the pair—including a 3 and 3 setback at the 2014 US Open—and looked lethargic and cautious at the outset.
A tightly-wounded Kanepi won the coin toss, elected to receive and looked helpless as a ruthless Williams pulverized her in the opening set.
A fiercely-focused Williams rampaged through 16 of the first 20 points roaring to a 4-0 lead after 13 minutes.
Blasting through a three-ace game—her first of two on the day—Williams extended to 5-0 before wrapping up a first-set thrashing in 18 minutes.
Competing with relaxed intensity Williams won four times as many points (24 to 6) as her shell-shocked opponent and seemed on track for a quick work day.
Playing with kinesiology tape snaking around her left shoulder, Kanepi shrugged off that horrific start and finally stalled her slide drawing an errant forehand breaking to open the second set. That game relaxed the two-time quarterfinalist.
Thumping her serve with more self-belief, Kanepi backed up the break then rolled through her two most convincing service games of the match.
Untouchable on serve in the opening set, Williams tightened up tossing in her first double fault of the day to donate the double break and a 5-2 lead to the world No. 44.
In just a half-hour’s time, Kanepi transformed a blow-out into a battle.
By then, both women were going toe-to-toe hammering heavy shots in the corners. They combined for 69 winners in all, with Williams slamming 47 winners.
Serving for the set for a second time, Kanepi denied a pair of break points with jolting serves. On her third set point, Kanepi stung a wide serve coaxing a backhand error to level the match after 62 minutes.
Playing in plain blue apparel devoid of sponsor branding, the explosive Estonian stamped her shot-making to take a set off the former No. 1 for the first time.
One of the few women who wear a wristwatch on court, Williams didn’t need to consult it to know her time was now.
Navigating a tricky double deuce hold to open the decider, Williams hit more depth and vigor drawing a pair of wild forehands to break for 2-0.
Denying a break point, Williams drilled damaging serves to confirm the break in the third game.
Breezing through the fifth game at love, Williams stretched her lead to 4-1 as husband and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian raised a clenched fist from the support box.
Serving for the quarterfinals, Williams quickly moved to triple match point.
Holding her ground in the face of the Estonian’s approach, Williams crunched a forehand pass off her back foot to finish a tough test in 97 minutes.
It is Serena’s 15th quarterfinal in 18 career Flushing Meadows appearances.
She was a 17-year-old phenom when Williams toppled world No. 1 Martina Hingis to win her first Grand Slam title at the 1999 US Open and now the 36-year-old American is the oldest woman still standing as she stands three wins from a historic 24th Grand Slam crown that would equal Margaret Court’s all-time record.
For Williams, the growth game continues.
“I’ve literally grown up on this court,” Williams said. “That’s super, super special and not many people can say that. I played here at 16 and now I’m still going.”