NEW YORK, NY, USA - When the draw was made last week it was the match-up everyone was waiting for, and when it became a reality one of them - Serena Williams - took it to a whole new level, beating Sloane Stephens in straight sets on Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach the US Open quarterfinals.
The early goings were tight - the No.1-seeded Williams drew first blood, breaking for 4-2, but the No.15-seeded Stephens broke right back, and things stayed on serve for a few more games after that. But Stephens was in trouble again serving at 4-5, fending off Williams' first two set points but firing a forehand down the line just wide on her third set point. The first set went to a fired up Williams, 6-4.
The two held serve in the first three games of the second set but that's when Williams pounced again, breaking for 3-1 and never really looking back, eventually closing her countrywoman out, 64 61.
"Going into the match I definitely wanted to be focused the whole time," Williams said. "That's all I wanted to do. Whether I was going to win or lose, I just wanted to play my game and do well today.
"It was definitely a high quality match out there. We both came out today to play. At the end of the day it was a fourth round match, but it definitely had feelings of a quarterfinal or a semifinal match."
"When you get broken at 2-1 to go down 3-1 and the other player is serving to go up 4-1, they're going to be pretty relaxed," Stephens said. "She had some bomb first serves. Having Serena serve at 3-1 up in the second set is not ideal. When she gets that opportunity, she definitely makes her move."
The match numbers went heavily in Williams' favor - she had 22 winners to just 13 unforced errors, and she was almost perfect in the second set, firing 10 winners to a measly two unforced errors.
Stephens, meanwhile, had 15 winners to 29 unforced errors in the one-hour, 28-minute contest.
"There were times I played some really good tennis, though the second set got away from me a little bit," Stephens said. "But overall I thought I played well. She's No.1 in the world for a reason.
"It didn't go how I wanted, but I competed well and played well, and that's all you can do."
Williams was asked in her post-match press conference what it would take for Stephens to get to the next level. "I don't think she has to work on anything," she said, "I think she's at the next level."