NEW YORK (AFP) - Defending champion Serena Williams moved a step closer defending her US Open title on Thursday, but had to dig deep to see off Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez after the Spaniard threw caution to the wind. The 27-year-old American won 6-3, 7-5 to reach a fourth-round showdown with Slovakian Grand Slam regular Daniela Hantuchova, who eased past Vania King of the United States 6-2, 6-2.
The Williams-Martinez Sanchez match had an undertone of friction as the two had clashed during a third-round match at the French Open when Williams accused her opponent of cheating by refusing to admit that a ball had hit her arm. The American eventually won that match in three sets, but she was outspoken in her criticism of Martinez Sanchez afterwards. This time around, Williams let her tennis do the talking although she was made to work hard in the second set as the Spaniard decided that if she was to seek salvation it would only come at the net.
Her tactics briefly worked as Williams saw her serve broken twice in a row to fall 1-3 down. That only served to bring the aggressive best out of the American as she got back on serve with a superb lob that left Martinez Sanchez hopelessly stranded at the net. Games stayed with serve after that until 5-5, when Williams sent two passing shots screaming past the Spaniard. Martinez battled back to deuce and staved off a series of break points before Williams finally converted thanks to back-to-back double faults.
Serena made no mistake in serving out for the match. "She was serving really well especially in the second set, but I just kept on fighting," she said. "It's not often that I play someone that serves and volleys like that. Playing doubles here helped with that. "I got super-pumped when 1-3 down in the second set as I knew I had to recharge my batteries."
When she met the media afterwards, the 11-times grand-slam champion sported a T-shirt with the slogan "Can't spell Dynasty without Nasty" emblazoned on the front. "I got nasty today, but to myself," she said. "I was just screaming to myself because I wasn't very happy with my performance. "This is the new "Delicious" campaign that I'm a part of, because I'm delicious."