NEW YORK: Six months after she nearly died, Serena Williams is closing in on what could be the greatest achievement of her incredible career.
The former world number stormed into the quarter-finals of the US Open by beating Ana Ivanovic 6-3 6-4 on Monday and suddenly the title looks to be at her mercy.
“I'm a person that really hates to lose,” Williams said. “It's really important for me just to look at the mountain and keep climbing it, not get discouraged.”
Novak Djokovic is also edging towards the men's title. The Serbian has been almost invincible this year and is through to the last eight without dropping a set, although he had to survive an epic tiebreaker to maintain his perfect record.
The world number one survived a 30-point classic against Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov, winning 16-14, and pumped his first like he had won the final. He ran away with the next two sets to win 7-6 6-4 6-2.
“This is one of the longest tiebreaks I ever played. It was certainly exciting to be part of it but I knew that I needed to win that set,” Djokovic said.
“After I won first set, I felt that I had a little mental advantage over him, that I'm in control.”
Djokovic's next opponent is his Davis Cup team mate Janko Tipsaraevic, who beat former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 7-5 6-7 7-5 6-2 in a slugfest that last almost four hours.
“It means there's going to be at least one Serbian in the semi-finals, which is great for our country,” Djokovic said.
“We are great friends. It's not going to be easy to play him, but look, it's the quarter-finals and we both want to win.”
Williams's ability to overcome adversity has helped make her the finest player of her generation, and among the best of all time, but when doctors found a life-threatening blood clot on her lungs in March, winning the US Open was the last thing on the American's mind.
Yet here she is, riding high on emotion and with momentum building behind her.
Ivanovic, a former French Open champion, loomed as a dangerous opponent, but Williams disposed of her with the ruthless determination of a woman on a mission.
“I think I'd like to say it's a bigger mountain like Everest. It's something you can always reach (for) and achieve whether I'm playing tennis or doing something else,” Williams said.
“I don't ever want to get to the top of the mountain. I want to keep being able to reach something.”
Williams went into the match as favourite, having won her two previous matches with Ivanovic, but Mother Nature was against her this time.
The wind was blowing hard at Flushing Meadows, making serving difficult. The gusts should have reduced the effectiveness of one of Williams's biggest weapons, but the 29-year-old handled the conditions better than her opponent.
Williams served nine aces and one double fault while Ivanovic landed just three aces and made eight double faults.
That was enough to give Williams the advantage but when Ivanovic made more than twice as many unforced errors as the Americans, the match all but ended as a contest.
“As I said even before the match, I think she's the favorite for the tournament,” Ivanovic said.
“She's been playing really well, and it's gonna be tough (for anyone to beat her).”
Williams's next opponent is Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who avenged her agonising loss to Italy's Francesca Schiavone at this year's French Open to win 5-7 6-3 6-4.
It was sweet revenge for Pavlyuchenkova after she blew her chance of a first grand slam semi-finals appearance when she lost to Schiavone in the quarters at Roland Garros after leading 6-1 4-1.
“Of course I was thinking about it,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “But it made me stronger I think. I never try to find excuses when I lose so I always blame myself.”