Two-time defending Madrid Open women's champion Serena Williams continued her march through the draw Thursday, dispatching Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) to advance to the quarterfinals.
The WTA on Twitter confirmed the comfortable result:
But don't let the impressive scoreline fool you. Williams was far from her best Thursday, struggling on serve and committing numerous unforced errors. Her left leg was heavily taped again, but she didn't appear to be limited physically. Coming into Thursday, Williams addressed her health, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
"I just had some issues and went preventive to make sure I didn't make anything worse. I'm literally taking it one day, one match at a time, and not putting any pressure on myself."
Despite having only won five total games against Williams in their three previous meetings, Suarez Navarro got off to a picture-perfect start in Thursday's match, breaking Williams at love in the opening game to pull ahead early.
Suarez Navarro's surprising success on return would become a trend throughout the match, as pointed out by The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg:
Carla Suarez Navarro has broken Serena four times so far, which is impressive. She has held serve zero times, which is less impressive.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 8, 2014
Williams, who recorded 11 aces in her second-round win on Wednesday, finished with just one ace Thursday.
But as Rothenberg noted, Williams would restore order with her power on return, breaking Suarez Navarro in all four of her service games in the opening set en route to taking the opening frame 6-2.
Who will conquer Madrid in 2014?
Williams' up-and-down play continued in the second set, but Suarez Navarro's inability to capitalize in her service games provided the world No. 1 with tremendous room for error. The defending champion would ultimately shut the door with improved play on serve down the stretch, recording her first and only ace of the match on match point.
For the match, Williams managed to put just 52 percent of her first serves in play and committed 26 unforced errors to 27 winners.
Although Williams can't be pleased with her shaky performance against an opponent she has dominated in the past, there's a certain level of satisfaction that comes with winning ugly.
Still, Williams will have to be much sharper against fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova in the next round if she hopes to keep her title defense alive. While the 17-time Grand Slam winner was moving well on the clay Thursday, her success on serve was sporadic, and her play at the net was head-scratching at times.
But if Williams can polish up those areas of her game, she's likely to improve on her 5-0 lifetime record against Kvitova.
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