Serena Williams Moves into 2018 US Open Quarter-Finals with Win vs. Kaia Kanepi

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2018

Serena Williams of US serves during her women's singles match against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia on Day 7 of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)        (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Serena Williams had to dig deep to advance to the quarter-finals of the 2018 U.S. Open on Sunday, as Kaia Kanepi bounced back from a rough start to take the six-time champion to a decider.

Williams dominated the first set but regressed in the second before rediscovering her form in the third. Set scores were 6-0, 4-6, 6-3.

Kanepi came into this match having knocked out Simona Halep in the opening round, but if she was hoping to build a reputation as a giant-slayer, Williams served up a rude awakening early.

After a good hold to start, the six-time U.S. Open champion broke serve on her first try.

Tennis writer Matt Zemek was impressed:

Matt Zemek @mzemek

Serena update: Still locked in.

The 36-year-old has impressed so far in this tournament, but she played her best tennis yet during the first set of this encounter, running straight through her opponent in no time at all.

With sheer dominance from the baseline and some excellent passing shots, a second break followed shortly after the first. Fans and pundits alike were stunned:

LZ Granderson @LZGranderson

Venus looking at this Serena v Kanepi match like “Girl, I understand...Rena ain’t playin’ right now” https://t.co/JYwmOq0V52

Matt Zemek @mzemek

This is a clinic on how to play tennis. 23,000-plus people are getting a lesson from their Ashe seats. At least Kaia Kanepi is getting a 6-figure paycheck for it. #Serena

Another easy hold meant Kanepi was serving to avoid a bagel in what seemed a matter of minutes, but Williams didn't hand her a single game in the opener.

Per sportswriter George Bellshaw, it had taken her less than 20 minutes to gain the advantage:

George Bellshaw @BellshawGeorge

Serena Williams bagels Kaia Kanepi in under 20 minutes. 14 winners, 2 unforced errors. Only 5UEs from Kanepi. Simply outclassed.

Kanepi had no interest in another bagel in the second set, however, and to the surprise of just about anyone who watched the opener, she immediately grabbed a break of her own.

It was an impressive response from the Estonian, who took full advantage of the handful of mistakes Williams started making to hold for 2-0. 

Her opponent hit back with three aces, but Kanepi had momentum on her side, battling to a difficult hold. Live Tennis noted the Estonian was playing much better:

Live Tennis @livetennis

Subtlety from #Serena as she guides a backhand winner cross court to seal another hold. But... she needs to find a break back, else we are going three... #Kanepi has definitely stepped it up... 3-2, the Estonian leads... https://t.co/ZNJuqYjnfh

Kanepi kept things simple and gradually put together the points, while Williams couldn't get back to the level she played at in the first set. In the seventh game of the set, Kanepi found a second break, courtesy of Williams' first double-fault of the contest.

The 33-year-old Kanepi couldn't capitalise on her first opportunity to win the set, as Williams broke back straight away, and on her next attempt, she had to save two break points. But after a lengthy back-and-forth, it was Williams who hit the final error, and the match went to a decider.

Bellshaw praised her for her efforts:

George Bellshaw @BellshawGeorge

Well done, Kaia Kanepi. Bounces back from being bagelled to take the second set 6-4. Looking fearless and giving Serena Williams a real run for her money. Into a decider...

Williams started the decider with a hold and grabbed a break in the following game, as she once again limited the mistakes that dogged her in the second set. With another hold, she was suddenly within three games of the quarter-finals.

Kanepi was able to stop the bleeding, but only barely, as Williams' serve was clicking:

Matt Zemek @mzemek

It's all about the serve right now. #PlayingWithALead

She served out the contest in comfortable fashion, booking her spot in the next round.

It will be difficult for anyone to keep Williams from winning a seventh title if she can hit the heights she did in the first set, but the mistakes that crept into her game afterwards will give future challengers hope she can be beaten.