NEW YORK: Serena Williams broke through another barrier on Monday, her 308th Grand Slam match win taking her past Roger Federer for the most in major tournaments and into the quarter-finals of the US Open.
“Wow, it’s really exciting,” Williams said of moving out of a tie with Swiss great Federer for most Grand Slam match wins.
“This is where it all started so it’s always so magical out here for me 308 sounds pretty good.”
As Williams, never seriously challenged in a 6-2, 6-3 victory over 52nd-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova, sailed on, one of the two players with a chance to topple her from the world number one spot in this tournament bowed out as fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska was shocked by 18-year-old Croatian Ana Konjuh.
The 6-4, 6-4 triumph avenged a bitter disappointment for Konjuh, who held three match points against Radwanska in the second round at Wimbledon before falling 9-7 in the third round after stepping on a ball and turning her ankle.
“She’s an incredible player and I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play her again,” Konjuh said. “This time I got the revenge.”
The teenager showed remarkable poise throughout the match that closed out the night session on the cavernous Arthur Ashe stadium.
Even when the public address system blared out accidentally as she prepared to serve early in the final game she wasn’t rattled.
“I just said to myself stay in the game don’t rush,” Konjuh said. “I remember at Wimbledon I had match points there and I thought I’m not going to do that here. I’m not going to let that opportunity go.”
With Radwanska out of the picture, second-seeded German Angelique Kerber is now the only player with a chance to end Williams’s 186-week reign atop the rankings.
Kerber will try to take the next step on Tuesday in a quarter-final clash with 2015 finalist Roberta Vinci, the seventh seed from Italy.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and Latvian Anastasija Sevastova will also battle for a semi-final berth on Tuesday.
Kerber’s run to the quarters means the American must at least reach the final to stay top for a 187th consecutive which would, of course, be a record.
If both Kerber and Serena make the championship match, the American will have to win to extend her reign.
Williams will have a day off before tackling Simona Halep after the fifth-seeded Romanian’s 6-2, 7-5 victory over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.
Despite injury fears sparked by the sore shoulder that hampered her at the Rio Olympics Williams has barely been challenged since arriving at Flushing Meadows, where she claimed the first of her six US Open titles in 1999.
She has reached the business end of the tournament without dropping a set or indeed even dropping her serve. She has faced just one break point in four matches.
A seventh US Open title would take her past the record she shares with Chris Evert, and would also break the Open Era record she shares with Steffi Graf of 22 Grand Slam crowns.
Halep, beaten in seven of eight prior encounters with Williams, was already bracing for the challenge.
“She’s like the best player in the world. I don’t have to be afraid or to have emotions because I have nothing to lose,” Halep said. “It’s just a huge challenge for me.”
The tantalizing prospect of a semi-final clash between Williams and her sister Venus evaporated as the elder Williams fell to hard-hitting Czech Karolina Pliskova 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3).
Venus was unable to convert her lone match point as Pliskova, serving at 5-4 in the third, saved herself with a forehand volley then held to extend the match.
With another break under her belt Pliskova had a chance to close it out at 6-5, but after surging to a 40-0 lead she lost five straight points as Venus forced the decider.
“In the breaker, I went for a little bit more, but I didn’t put the ball in enough,” said the 36-year-old American, whose seven Grand Slam titles include two US Opens.
“I went for some aggressive shots, didn’t necessarily put them in.”
In her first Grand Slam quarter-final, Pliskova will take on Konjuh. Despite her entrenched position in the top 20 the Czech had never made it past the third round in a major in 17 prior tries.
Konjuh, in contrast, has made the quarters for the first time in her ninth Grand Slam.