Toronto: Serena Williams moved into the Rogers Cup semi-finals on Friday with a maiden career victory over Naomi Osaka in their first meeting since the American’s infamous row with an umpire overshadowed last year’s US Open final.
The 6-3 6-4 loss continued a run of poor form for Osaka but there was some good news later in the day when Karolina Pliskova lost to ensure the US and Australian Open champion would replace Ash Barty as world number one next week.
Williams will next face qualifier Marie Bouzkova, who advanced when Wimbledon champion and holder Simona Halep retired from their match with a left Achilles problem after dropping the first set 6-4.
There was no doubt about what was the big match of the day at the third oldest tournament in tennis.
Unlike at Flushing Meadows last year, where Osaka won her first Grand Slam title, there were no fiery exchanges with the umpire, no smashed rackets, no point or game penalties — just a rock-solid performance from Williams.
The 37-year-old is looking to shore up her hard court game for the August 26-September 8 US Open where she will chase a record-tying 24th career Grand Slam title.
Williams had slow starts in her previous two outings this week but came out much stronger for this one and delivered a serving masterclass that denied Osaka any break point opportunities.
“We haven’t played since New York which was a really good match for her and I just wanted to come out and try to win a set this time because she’s beaten me twice so I just wanted to do the best I could today,” Williams said in an on-court interview.
There was a scary moment in the second set when the American ran into the net post while trying to chase down an Osaka drop shot but, despite nursing her right arm, Williams confirmed that no serious damage had been done.
“Tennis players don’t really get too dirty and ugly on the court. So that was one of a few moments where those kind of injuries can happen or whatever,” said Williams. “But it was fine. It hurt, but it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov crushed second seed Dominic Thiem and third seed Alexander Zverev respectively to set up an all-Russian semi-final at the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Friday.
Later in the day, top seed Rafa Nadal overcame a sluggish start to defeat Fabio Fognini 2-6 6-1 6-2 to keep his title defence alive.
Nadal, who won his fourth title in Canada a year ago, needed almost two hours to overcome the Italian veteran who shocked him on clay at Monte Carlo in April.
“It was an up-and-down match, but a positive match for me because I played better and better as it went on,” Nadal said.