When Serena Williams is at the top of her game, there is no one capable of beating her.
That's a statement we've heard echoed ad nauseum from Flushing Meadows this past week, but on Sunday, we were given a very clear reminder of its accuracy.
In a rubber match dubbed as a potential passing of the torch—the current No. 1 American against whom many believe will be the next No. 1 American—the 31-year-old defending U.S. Open champion didn't blink in the face of her imaginable successor, Sloane Stephens.
NBA.com's David Aldridge put it simply, borrowing a little verbiage from The Rock:
Serena lays the smackdown on Sloane. On to the quarters. #UsOpen— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) September 1, 2013
After a back-and-forth opening 45 minutes, Williams got a timely break to take the first set and proceeded to pound the 20-year-old into the ground in a dominant second set.
When it was all said and done, the highly anticipated fourth-round matchup was over, 6-4, 6-1, in favor of Williams.
Williams hit six aces to Stephens' zero. She won 84 percent of her first-serve points, while Stephens ended the match at just 57 percent.
She broke Stephens four times and was broken just once. She hit 22 scorching winners to Stephens' 15.
She kept her cool during a match with seemingly so much on the line, hitting just 13 unforced errors. Stephens hit 29 and looked noticeably rattled.
The U.S. Open's Twitter account gives us a look at an early break in the second set that essentially put the match away with the way Williams was playing:
There might be some similarities between these two, but Williams, who fell to Stephens in Australia, made it emphatically clear the throne is still hers—and more importantly, there is still a significant gap in talent between her and the burgeoning star.
Moreover, Jemele Hill noted that Williams dominated in more than just the talent facet of the match:
Serena's killer instinct was again on display, but Sloane mentally checked out. Serena's intimidation factor as good as her serve.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 1, 2013
Just to reiterate: When Williams is playing at this kind of level, no one on the planet is touching her.
Her monster serve—which reached 121 mph in the final game—and unrivaled power are the things that typically define Williams, but on Sunday, she showed something more. Stephens was consistently making excellent shots—she didn't play nearly as bad as the final score indicates—but Williams displayed the speed and defense normally reserved for the 20-year-old.
How far will Serena Williams go this week?
Throw in her fiery mentality and noticeable passion that would frighten pretty much anyone on the opposite side of the net, and you can forget about her losing any time soon.
World No. 2 Victoria Azarenka beat Williams in Cincinnati two weeks ago, but Williams is now clicking on every cylinder—both physically and mentally.
That's a bad sign for anyone standing in her way of a fifth U.S. Open title in the next week.