Williams trailed familiar foe Maria Sakkari by a break early in the third set before turning the tables for a 6-3 6-7 (6) 6-3 victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam for a 53rd time, tying Martina Navratilova for second on the all-time women’s list.
The hard-court major in New York was already missing Djokovic’s two main rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who stayed away for different reasons. Federer is recovering from knee surgery while Nadal cited coronavirus concerns and is preparing for the French Open.
In the women’s draw, the two highest ranked players, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, skipped New York due to coronavirus concerns.
But in Williams, the US Open arguably has the biggest star of them all and the 38-year-old remains in contention to collect a record tying 24th Grand Slam title.
Sakkari had defeated Williams at the warmup Western & Southern Open in three sets. In that one, too, she won a second-set tiebreak.
Sakkari took lead in third
And when Greece’s top-ranked female player led 2-0 in the decider, it appeared as if the 15th seed was on course to become the first player since Justine Henin in 2007 to get the better of Williams — excluding a retirement — in back-to-back tournaments.
Williams, though, has won 23 majors for a reason.
Her game picked up and the desire, as ever, was there.
She broke for 2-2 and then again for 5-3. After forcing Sakkari into an error on match point, Williams let out a loud roar, which resonated even more since there are no fans at this year’s tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams will face fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova in the last eight. Williams owns a 4-0 record against the Bulgarian, who is contesting her first tournament in three years.
Pironkova also lost a second-set tiebreak, against France’s Alize Cornet, before progressing 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-3.