Despite beating Serena Williams at the Western and Southern Open over a week ago, Maria Sakkari knew the American would come out at a different level for their fourth-round US Open showdown. Indeed, Williams did come out looking very intune into the match, but Sakkari's fighting spirit was definitely on display as well.
Just like their match a few weeks ago, this would go the distance. This time though, the six-time champion continued her streak of making the quarterfinals in New York every time she's played since 2006. She closed it out 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3.
Serena Seals Opener
The early stages of this match saw both women battle it out in some long rallies, which was especially good for Williams; she had to work her way into that against Sloane Stephens. After two comfortable service holds for the three seed, she reeled off five straight points with a little help from Sakkari; the Greek lost four of the last five points due to her unforced errors.
If that game was a potential tide-turner for the set, then indeed it did. The American broke from 40-15 down in an ebb and flow game which saw the 15 seed miss four opportunities to hold. From then on, the six-time US Open champion kept it tidy to close out the first set 6-3.
Both women maintained a high-level in this set and neither would give an inch. Even when games looked to be in control of the server, the returner would really make them work to earn the game. Despite this, neither woman had a break point opportunity to look at.
Serving at 4-4, Sakkari missed a sitter at the net as Williams hoped to mount the pressure off that miss. It wouldn't happen with Sakkari winning four straight points off that miss for a 5-4 lead.
Williams had a slight 15-30 opening after winning a long point which saw Sakkari lose out despite her pressure at the net. Two backhand winners put the 15 seed back in control of the game. The hold put the pressure on the American once again, forcing her to hold for a tiebreak.
Sakkari had the first look of not only a break point but a point for the set as well off of a fortunate net cord. Williams quickly erased it away but found herself having to save it once again after a backhand into the net. The six-time champ held to force the tiebreak.
The Greek roared out to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreak. Williams roared (quite literally) back; a backhand return winner down the line brought it to 4-3. A beautiful slice backhand set up the down the line winner from Sakkari to move within two points of the set.
Two more set points for Sakkari appeared after the former world number one hit Sakkari's return long. Clutch winners from Williams tied the breaker, showing just how tiny the margins in this set were. It would be Sakkari to take the breaker 8-6, maintaining an unbeaten tiebreak record and forcing a decider.
Sealing The Deal
After a lack of opportunities to break in the previous set, Sakkari broke through in the opening service game. It didn't take that much longer for the American to break back though, with a forehand passing shot winner to tie the set at 2-2. It's not a break until you can consolidate it by holding, and that's exactly what the three seed did for a 3-2 lead.
The former world number one earned three chances to break, storming out to a 0-40 lead in the eighth game. On the third time of asking, the six-time champ moved ahead 5-3 after a forehand unforced error from Sakkari. The three seed closed it out, taking it 6-3 in the final set.