World No. 1 Serena Williams was at her best on Thursday in Rome, fighting off a set point to advance into the quarterfinals and reaffirming she’s No. 1 — even when she’s not.
Williams beat countrywoman Christina McHale 7-6(7), 6-1, setting up a quarterfinal with former world No. 2 and French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
“I feel good, because I feel like she hits a lot of balls back,” Serena said of McHale. “I wanted to get a match in like that where she gets a lot of balls back and see how I was able to do against that and see how I was physically after that, too.”
Serena says Kuznetsova will be a sterling French Open test.
“I think right now she’s probably one of the best clay court players,” Serena said. “I couldn’t ask for a better match going into Roland Garros, so this is a perfect opportunity for me, win or lose, to see where I am and get ready for what I’m ready for, which is the main event.”
Serena added that even when she is not No. 1, she is No. 1.
“In my mind I’m always No. 1, and I think I have always thought that since I have turned pro,” she said. “And in everyone else’s mind, even when I was injured they are like, ‘You’re No. 1.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So everyone else thinks it.”
Kuznetsova is looking forward to the match and the opportunity.
“I won in Miami, but doesn’t matter,” Kuznetsova said. “Serena is No. 1. She’s playing great in any surface. She won it in any way. And it just gonna be another great match, great opportunity for me to play and to enjoy my game, and I’m looking forward to it.
“I know where I am at. I feel great on the clay. I’m doing better. I have couple days off after here to prepare my things. It’s great to play top player on clay before French. It’s amazing and it will be amazing match.”
Other seeded winners on the day were No. 3 Garbine Muguruza defeating Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 6-4, and No. 11 Timea Bacsinszky upsetting No. 8 Carla Suarez Navarro 5-7, 7-5, 6-2.
Muguruza and Bacsinszky will next face off.
Other winners Thursday, all unseeded, were Irina-Camelia Begu topping Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-4, Japan’s Misaki Doi outlasting Johanna Konta 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, Madison Keys beating Timea Babos 7-6(2), 6-3, and Czech Barbora Strycova rolling Genie Bouchard 6-1, 6-0.
Friday’s quarterfinals in Rome are (3) Muguruza vs. (11) Bacsinszky, (1) Serena vs. (9) Kuznetsova, Begu vs. Doi, and Keys vs. Strycova.
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