By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – Serena Williams moved into the Rogers Cup semi-final with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Naomi Osaka on Friday in their first meeting since the American’s infamous row with an umpire overshadowed last year’s U.S. Open final.
Unlike the at Flushing Meadows last year, where Osaka won her first Grand Slam title, there were no fiery exchanges with the umpire, no smashed rackets, no point or game penalties — just a rock-solid performance from Williams.
The 37-year-old is looking to shore up her hardcourt game for the Aug. 26-Sept.8 U.S. Open where she will chase a record-tying 24th career Grand Slam title.
Williams, who had slow starts in her previous two outings this week, came out much stronger for this one and delivered a serving masterclass that denied Osaka any break point opportunities.
The match, played in windy conditions, stayed on serve until Williams broke in the eighth game and the three-times champion went on to serve out the set.
She struck earlier in the second set with a break in the third game to go ahead 2-1 and never looked back as she went on to secure he first career victory from three career meetings with Osaka.
“We haven’t played since New York which was a really good match for her and I just wanted to come out and try to win a set this time because she’s beaten me twice so I just wanted to do the best I could today,” Williams said in an on-court interview.
There was a scary moment in the second set when the American ran into the net post while trying to chase down an Osaka drop shot but, despite nursing her right arm, Williams confirmed that no serious damage had been done.
“It burns,” she said. “But you know as an athlete you got to take the hits and keep going. So I was just was like ‘I gotta keep going’.”
Up next for Williams will be the winner of the late match between holder Simona Halep and Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova.
In earlier quarter-final action, Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu coped with leg pain to keep her dream run alive with a 6-0 2-6 6-4 upset of Czech third seed Karolina Pliskova.
Andreescu looked to be in trouble when she gingerly returned to the court from a medical timeout late in the second set with her right thigh heavily taped and her movement hampered.
But the 19-year-old, who shot to prominence with her Indian Wells triumph in March, went toe-to-toe with her more experienced opponent to win by serving out to love.
“When I step out on the court, I’m fearless. I show no mercy no matter who I play, and I think that’s showing a lot,” said Andreescu.
Pliskova’s loss was good news for Osaka, who will now replace Ash Barty as world number one when the new rankings are issued on Monday.
Up next for Andreescu will be unseeded American Sofia Kenin, who extended her impressive Toronto run with a 7-6(2) 6-4 win over Ukrainian former champion Elina Svitolina.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris/Nick Mulvenney)