Serena Williams pushed to brink
No. 1 seed at French Open is game away from defeat but comes back to beat Stephens.
PARIS — For the third match in a row at the French Open, Serena Williams was oddly out of sorts at the outset and dropped the opening set.
And for the third match in a row, almost as though this was the plan all along, Williams righted herself to pull out a victory.
In a riveting, two-hour showdown between the last two American women in the draw, the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams was a game away from defeat Monday, then came back to beat Sloane Stephens, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Williams reached the quarterfinals and avoided joining defending champion Maria Sharapova on the way out of Roland Garros.
“It’s not how you start, I guess, it’s how you finish,” Williams said. “That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”
Close as it was, thanks in large part to Williams’ 43 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Stephens’ 21, the eventual outcome seemed certain once Williams pulled even by taking the second set.
That’s because she is 10-0 in three-setters this season.
“There’s a reason why she’s the No. 1 player in the world,” said Stephens, defeated in the French Open’s fourth round for the fourth consecutive year.
Either Williams, in 2013, or Sharapova, in 2012 and 2014, has won the French Open the last three years. Only Williams has a chance to do it again Saturday because the second-seeded Sharapova was outplayed in a 7-6 (3), 6-4 loss to 13thseeded Lucie Safarova.
“My opponent had a different gear than I did,” Sharapova said after her earliest exit at Roland Garros since 2010.
In her first French Open quarterfinal, Safarova will face No. 21 Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who beat No. 28 Flavia Pennetta of Italy, 6-3, 6-4.
On a day full of tennis’ biggest names, the Big Four of the men’s game — Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray — all won. The top-seeded Djokovic and nine-time French Open champion Nadal will play in the quarterfinals Wednesday, a rematch of last year’s final.
Nadal eliminated the last U.S. man, Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, while Djokovic had no trouble in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet.
Federer needed about an hour to finish his 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Gael Monfils in a match suspended because of darkness Sunday. Federer next faces Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka, and Murray will play 2013 French Open runner-up David Ferrer.
SERENA WILLIAMS battles to win against Sloane Stephens to advance to quarterfinals.