'Keep fighting!' Serena Williams yells herself to Open win

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Serena Williams, of the United States, reacts after defeating Maria Sakkari, of Greece, during the quarterfinals of the US Open tennis championships, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK – Her breathing loud enough to hear in an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium, her third-set deficit a point from growing to 3-1 against someone who beat her less than two weeks earlier, Serena Williams scrambled to extend a 13-stroke exchange until her opponent netted a forehand.

“Keep fighting!” Williams exhorted herself.

Locked in a tough fourth-round match Monday, and without the benefit of a pro-American audience, Williams provided her own encouragement along the way to coming back and beating 15th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, reaching the quarterfinals in a 12th consecutive appearance at Flushing Meadows.

“I feel like I’m pretty vocal with or without a crowd. ... I’m super passionate. This is my job. This is what I wake up to do. This is what I train to do, 365 days of the year,” said Williams, who moved a step closer to a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title.

“Yeah, I’m always going to bring that fire and that passion,” she continued, “and that ‘Serena’ to the court.”

When the match ended, after Williams collected six of the last seven games, she turned and yelled toward her husband, who stood at his front-row seat and yelled right back.

How tight was this contest? Sakkari produced more aces than Williams, 13-12, and more total winners, 35-30.

Williams was two points from victory at 6-all in the second-set tiebreaker, but faltered there, sending a backhand return long to give Sakkari her fifth set point, then pushing a forehand out.