Serena and Venus Williams advanced to a dramatic US Open quarter-final showdown with straight-set triumphs.
World No1 Serena Williams served well in moving within three match victories of a rare calendar Grand Slam with a 6-3, 6-3 triumph over US 19th seed Madison Keys.
Serena made only six unforced errors to 19 for Keys and hit 58 percent of her first serves.
She took 79 per cent of those points and 70 per cent on her second serves, nearly twice Keys’ second-try effectiveness. “I’m so proud. I’m so glad it’s so much better,” Serena said of her serve.
Venus, seeded 23rd, downed 152nd-ranked Estonian teen qualifier Anett Kontaveit 6-2, 6-1 at Arthur Ashe Stadium, matching her deepest Grand Slam run since reaching the 2010 US Open semifinals.
“We’re both prepared,” Venus said. “Even though you’re playing your sister you have to be prepared and focus. The preparation doesn’t change.”
Serena, who holds all four major tennis titles, is trying to complete the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 and match Graf’s Open Era record of 22 career Slam singles titles by capturing her Open Era record seventh US Open crown.
But Venus, two years older than Serena at 35, could play the spoiler as she tries to add to a trophy collection that includes the 2000 and 2001 US Opens and five Wimbledon titles, the most recent in 2008.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler. I think people love to see history being made,” Venus said.
“But at the same time, you’re focused on winning your match even though the circumstances are really much different than you.”
Serena leads the Williams sibling rivalry 15-11 but they have split four US Open meetings, including the 2001 and 2002 finals. Serena won their most recent matchup in the fourth round at Wimbledon in July.
“Awesome. It has been awesome,” Venus said when asked about her sibling rivalry. “I’m so proud of Serena and I think she’s proud of me. We inspire each other.”
Serena won her first set in 27 minutes, Keys handing her the lone break in the sixth game.
Serena hit a backhand winner to break Keys for a 4-3 edge in the second set and broke again on match point when Keys, who also lost to Serena in the Australian Open semi-finals, double faulted to end matters after 68 minutes and ensure an all-Williams showdown tomorrow.
“She is playing great,” Serena said of Venus.
“I have to play like I did today or better. But at least one of us, a Williams, will be in the semis, so that’s good.”
Venus, who lost the 1997 US Open final to Martina Hingis when Kontaveit was 21 months old, broke in the fourth game and again in the eighth, Kontaveit hitting a forehand long to drop the set after 24 minutes.
Kontaveit, 19, who lost in the first round at the past two Wimbledons in her only prior Grand Slam appearances, swatted a forehand beyond the baseline to give Venus a 2-0 lead in the second set and sent a backhand long to surrender a break for a 4-0 deficit.
Williams held twice more, denying the European’s lone break point in the final game to win in 50 minutes.
There was a mix of irony and heartbreak that hovered over Nadal’s five-set defeat to Fabio Fognini in the US Open third round, in which the Spaniard squandered a two-sets-to-love lead for the first time at a major.
Tiger Woods sat in Nadal’s box, witnessing a shocking finale to his friend’s 2015 grand slam season and one would find it hard not to draw parallels between the two sporting greats’ struggles in recent months.
Nadal says he has no idols, but that the closest he has to one is Woods.
Unlike Woods, the Mallorcan remains a top-eight player, even after suffering his earliest US Open exit in a decade, but he is going through the kind of decline that many perceive as the beginning of the end.
Should he want to bounce back, he might have to look to someone other than the unravelling Woods for inspiration.
While this is hardly the first shocker Nadal has endured this season, his five-set loss to Fognini was symbolic.
The US Open was his last attempt at salvaging a forgettable year – at least slam-wise – and he was taking on a man who had beaten him twice already in 2015 (both on clay).
If Nadal wanted to take steps towards vindication, that was the match he needed to win. And when he went up two sets and a break against Fognini, it’s safe to say nobody expected him to lose from that position.
In the 151 grand slam matches in which Nadal had gone up two-sets-to-love, he had astonishingly won all 151.
That was always his greatest strength – pouncing to those big leads and holding onto them for dear life. That was until Fognini unleashed 70 winners to complete the unlikeliest of comebacks.
Nadal was fighting so hard during some of those epic rallies with Fognini that one Twitter user said it felt like he was battling for his entire career, not just a match win.
Temperamental Italian Fognini pointed to his brain à la Stan Wawrinka, signifying the mental strength he exhibited to grind out that victory.
The irony was not lost on anyone that the talented Fognini, who switches off during matches, terrorises umpires, and even provides a good old fashioned tank every once in a while, had actually outsmarted Nadal at his very own game.
A camera awaited Nadal as he walked off the court, through the tunnel. Seldom have a few seconds of footage managed to capture such pure agony on a loser’s face the way that cameraman did.
Nadal was walking almost with his eyes closed, like he was refusing to believe that he had every single chance to win the match yet somehow lost.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2015
He played well, was aggressive, didn’t hit too many errors, but the mental edge he’s always had over his opponents is no longer there.
“With Rafa leading two-sets-to-love you have to go to Lourdes. I went there,” joked Fognini after the match.
Madison Keys says Serena Williams’ greatest quality is that even if she is down 0-6, 0-6 0/40, “you still don’t think she’s going to lose”.
That used to ring true for Nadal.
For now, that unbreakable quality looks to have disappeared and recovering it must be the Spaniard’s top priority.
Nadal’s grand slam season may be over but he has a chance to do what Andy Murray did at the end of last season – that is to rack up as many wins as possible to qualify for the ATP Finals in London and move his ranking up.
How Nadal ends 2015 will have a huge impact on 2016 and considering he only has 190 points to defend until the end of the year, there is a big opportunity to gain ground and position himself for a good seeding at the Australian Open next year.
Victoria Azarenka consulted a set of revision notes to help her edge out Germany’s Angelique Kerber and reach the US Open last 16.
Azarenka defeated the number 11 seed 7-5 2-6 6-4 after an enthralling match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, which lasted two hours and 52 minutes.
Kerber saved five match points in the final set to spark hopes of a comeback but Azarenka held her nerve to book a fourth-round meeting with American Varvara Lepchenko.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2015
Lepchenko beat another German, Mona Barthel, in three sets. Azarenka is fast-establishing herself as a major challenger at Flushing Meadows and the number 20 seed furthered her reputation with another powerful display.
The Belarusian drew inspiration, however, from an unusual source as she was seen regularly studying notes from her racquet bag at changes of ends.
“I started doing it not too long ago,” Azarenka said.
“It’s just something that I feel will keep me a little bit entertained during changeovers. Sometimes it gets a little quiet so I just want to make sure I’m focused on what I have to do.
“I write different things for myself, sometimes something to make sure I stay focused. I wrote this thing which was hilarious to me yesterday. It was so stupid, but it made me laugh so hard. I just wrote it to keep me relaxed sometimes.”
Lepchenko is ranked 46th in the world, 20 spots below Azarenka, and has never reached the fourth round in New York before.
The 29-year-old said she would have nothing to lose against her next opponent but Azarenka poured cold water on that approach.
“Everybody has something to lose,” Azarenka said.
“You have (ranking) points to lose. You have money to lose. You have opportunity to lose. I guess it’s a way to take the pressure off yourself. And for me, I love pressure. It makes me better.
“I don’t wish to have pressure, but it’s something that, I don’t know, I think I love to rise to the occasion. It’s challenging and motivating for me.”
Fifth seed Petra Kvitova progressed to the last 16 after she thrashed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and the Czech will now face Britain’s Johanna Konta, who knocked out 18th seed Andrea Petkovic.
Australia’s 2011 champion Samantha Stosur and Italian Flavia Pennetta are also safely through. Stosur beat Sara Errani in three sets while Pennetta also triumphed in a decider against Petra Cetkovska.
Germany’s Sabine Lisicki had to come from a set down to overcome Czech Barbora Strycova and she now faces second seed Simona Halep, who defeated American Shelby Rogers.