For the second day in a row, Serena Williams found herself playing from behind, but picked herself up for a straight-sets win. On Thursday evening, she defeated qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova, 7-5, 6-4—setting up a highly-anticipated rematch with Naomi Osaka in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup. The two last met in the 2018 US Open final, a match remembered for much more than just the results.
Osaka, for her part, overcame qualifier Iga Swiatek, 7-6 (4), 6-4.
“She’s like my tennis mom. She’s someone that I grew up watching and admire so much,” the second seed said about Williams in her on-court interview afterwards. “I’m pretty sure a lot of people will be watching that match. Hopefully I can play well against her.”
Against Alexandrova, Williams went down an early double break after struggling to find a rhythm in blustery conditions. The Russian, however, couldn’t find her serve when she needed it, double faulting twice in a row to bring the match back to even playing field.
Williams is bidding to win her first title since capturing the 2017 Australian Open. (Getty Images)
Though Williams wasn’t quite as dominant on return as she was in her second-round win over Elise Mertens, she still applied plenty of pressure to create 17 break point chances. She’ll look to capitalize much sooner against Osaka after going just two for 11 in the second set. Her first serve provided a much-needed boost when she needed it, and the three-time champion ultimately advanced in one hour and 31 minutes.
“She played really well. She didn’t really give me any rhythm. I wasn’t sure what was going to come. It was definitely a challenge for me,” Williams told the crowd afterwards. “I was trying to feel her game out. I knew I could take it to a new level.”
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Williams nearly faced Osaka at the Australian Open, when she held four match points against Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals. Pliskova would rally to win that match from 5-1 down in the third after Williams appeared to injure her ankle.
Osaka fired nine aces to just one double fault in her third-round victory Thursday. (Getty Images)
Osaka, who went on to win her second successive major title in Melbourne, saved two set points before taking a crucial tiebreaker over Swiatek. Both players struck 15 winners in the opening set, but Osaka’s aggressive approach on serve kept her in it, finishing with seven aces to earn a one-set lead.
Swiatek continued battling, showcasing her defensive flair and willingness to go for corners. Though she would get back on serve for 3-3. Osaka held her ground and stayed patient, breaking the Pole for the third time in the final game to confirm the quarterfinal showdown with Williams.
With her win, Osaka is in prime position to retain the No. 1 ranking from Ashleigh Barty, as Pliskova now must reach the final to stay in the running. Osaka is aiming to win her first title since triumphing over Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open final—and she has never lost a set to Williams in their two previous meetings, having also been on the winning end in Miami last year.