World number one Serena Williams continued her quest for a third BNP Paribas Open title on Tuesday afternoon, overcoming a few frustrating moments to defeat a resurgent Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and twelve minutes. With this victory, Williams sets up an intriguing clash with fifth seed and defending champion Simona Halep.
Williams Takes Rocky Opening Set
After the first three games of the match went with serve, it was unsurprisingly Williams who drew first blood, breaking at the second time of asking with a return that was seemingly too hot for Bondarenko to handle. From there, the world number one barely missed a beat, consolidating the early break to open up a 4-1 lead. In a tense sixth game, the Ukrainian fought tooth and nail to fight off four break point opportunities for the American, but her resistance was finally broken on the fifth as Williams swiftly moved a double break in front.
Leading 5-1, Williams seemed to be well on her way to putting herself a set to the good when she raced out to a 40-15 lead on her own serve, but to the credit of Bondarenko, the Ukrainian refused to back down. Benefiting from a couple of loose unforced errors from the world number one, the world number 70 saved both set points -- as well as one later in the game -- before an untimely double fault from Williams handed her one of the two breaks between them.
Trailing 2-5, Bondarenko was looking to build on her fortunes in the previous game by reducing the deficit further, but Williams had other ideas. Finally, at the fifth time of asking, the world number one secured the opening set 6-2 in 36 minutes.
Williams Continues Fine Form into Second Set
After a minor setback in the latter stages of the opening set, order was restored for Williams as she quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead with a break sandwiched between two holds of serve. With Bondarenko seemingly unable to counter the sheer power of Williams, it was only a matter of time until the 34-year-old earned herself an insurance break by breaking for a second time.
Bondarenko, however, was not prepared to go down so quietly, and responded right away with an emphatic break straight back -- this time at love -- to reduce the deficit to 1-4. With the help of her underrated anticipation skills, the Ukrainian was given a short lifeline back into this match, and she was looking to make the most of the occasion, regardless of the final result. Suddenly, she began to open up her shoulders and play with more freedom, ultimately resulting in an impressive hold to further reduce the deficit to 2-4, saving two break points in the process.
However, it was a case of too little, too late from Bondarenko as Williams restored order in this fourth round clash, holding at love to go a set and 5-2 to the good. From there, the world number one's persistence from the receiving end was eventually rewarded as she converted her second match point to seal a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory in an hour and 12 minutes, a match that was a lot closer than the lopsided score line might suggest.
"It definitely wasn't an easy match," Williams said. "She's obviously been a good player in the past, and she knows how to play on big courts against big players. So, it was a good match for me."
Next up for Williams: Simona Halep
With this victory, Williams sets up an enticing clash with fifth seed and defending champion Simona Halep, who won by retirement after Barbora Strycova decided to throw in the towel a game into the second set due to an upper respiratory illness. Williams and Halep have met seven times before, with the former owning an overwhelming 6-1 head-to-head record against the latter. However, the Romanian pushed the American to the limit in both of their 2015 encounters, and even handed the world number one her worst loss in more than a decade at the 2014 WTA Finals. With the sheer contrast in styles and the consistent quality of play that both women are able to bring to the table, it will be fascinating to see who will gain the upper end this time around in undoubtedly, the most highly-anticipated last eight clash of the week.