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Serena Williams battles from a set down to tee up Sakkari rematch

Meanwhile, there was controversy as the top women’s doubles seeds were pulled from the tournament due to a close contact with a confirmed Covid case.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

SERENA WILLIAMS BATTLED into the US Open last 16 last night, coming from a set down to oust 2017 champion Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, in what she called an “intense” encounter on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“In that first set I don’t think she made any errors, honestly. She was just playing so clean and I just said, ‘I don’t want to lose in straight sets,’” said Williams.

With spectators barred from this year’s Flushing Meadows event due to the pandemic, second and fourth seeds Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka took advantage of suites they have been assigned to check out the competition.

“It’s cool us players can watch each other. It’s interesting, I like it,” said Williams, who will play 15th seed Maria Sakkari for a place in the quarter-finals.

The Greek player, who stunned Williams at the Western & Southern Open last month, progressed with a 6-3, 6-1 dismantling of America’s 22nd seed Amanda Anisimova. 

Off the court, number one seeds Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos were withdrawn from the women’s doubles competition after Mladenovic was instructed to quarantine for coming in contact with compatriot Benoit Paire, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend.

“All persons who were identified as having prolonged close contact with the infected player will quarantine in their rooms for the remainder of their quarantine period,” the United States Tennis Association said in a statement.

The USTA said local public health authorities had issued the quarantine notices, which prevented the players commuting from their hotel to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“The USTA is obligated to adhere to government guidance at the State, City and County level,” the body said.

A spokesman for New York state’s health department said the decision was “in the best interest” of health and safety. But France’s Alize Cornet described the move as “very brutal.”

“It’s definitely weird because she could play her first round of singles and first round of doubles, and now suddenly she’s kicked out,” Cornet complained after progressing to the last 16 when Madison Keys retired injured.

The intervention came a day after government officials tried to prevent Adrian Mannarino, who had also been in contact with Paire, from playing his last-32 match. 

The health department contacted the USTA to say Mannarino should be quarantining in his hotel room.

Despite this, the match got underway three hours after its scheduled start time, after authorities ruled it could go ahead following discussions with tennis officials that also included lobbying by world number one Novak Djokovic.

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us-open-day-5 Mannarino was permitted to play on. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Mannarino and Mladenovic were two of 11, mostly French players, put under enhanced safety protocols on Monday after Paire was withdrawn from the US Open the previous day following his positive test.

The players signed an agreement with New York City authorities that allowed them to remain in the tournament under the enhanced restrictions, which involved daily testing and barred them from communal areas in their hotel.

Mannarino, on Friday, said that organisers told him that New York state authorities had taken over the case and ruled that he was now not allowed to play.

Following her first-round singles win on Monday, Mladenovic said she had been “living in a nightmare” following Paire’s positive test result.

Back on the court Saturday, Russian third seed Daniil Medvedev, Italy’s sixth seed Matteo Berrettini and Andrey Rublev, all entered the last 16 with easy three-set wins.

Second seed Dominic Thiem also progressed to round four, overcoming 2014 champion Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

And Canada’s 94th-ranked Vasek Pospisil shocked eighth-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut and Australia’s 21st seed Alex de Minaur upset 11th-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov.

In the women’s draw, unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, playing her first tournament in three years, knocked out 18th seed Donna Vekic.

Second seed Sofia Kenin defeated Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 to set up a match against Belgium’s Elise Mertens for a quarter-final place.

And former number one Victoria Azarenka said she had “a great opportunity” to end her seven-year wait for a third Grand Slam after booking a last 16 berth with a straight-sets win over Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

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AFP

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