Serena Williams celebrates after winning a point against Kaia Kanepi during the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sunday in New York. AP photo

NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams’ yells of “Come on!” were crescendoing right along with the tension in a fourth-round U.S. Open match that began as a rout and suddenly became riveting.

When she ripped a backhand winner to claim the third set’s opening game Sunday, Williams let out her loudest shout of the day, leaning forward and rocking both arms. This turned into a test, and she passed it.

Williams reached the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows for a 10th consecutive appearance – she wasn’t there last year because she gave birth to her daughter during the tournament – by picking her level up after a lull and using 18 aces to beat Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-0, 4-6, 6-3.

Serena Williams returns a shot to Kaia Kanepi during the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sunday in New York. AP photo

“It wasn’t an easy match at all. She obviously knows how to play,” Williams said. “I was just happy to get through it.”

This was filled with big hitting by both women, along with all manner of shifts in momentum and quality of play. In the 18-minute shutout of the first set, Kanepi was tight and Williams was pretty much perfect, grabbing 24 of 30 points.

But after compiling 14 winners and only two unforced errors in that set, Williams began making mistakes, less and less comfortable as Kanepi grew increasingly so. Kanepi is ranked only 44th, but she’s been a top-20 player in the past, and has made it to Grand Slam quarterfinals a half-dozen times. Sure, that’s nothing compared to Williams’ 23 major titles, but it’s something. Plus, it’s worth remembering this: Kanepi eliminated No. 1 Simona Halep on Day 1 of this tournament.

In a blink, Williams had a match on her hands. Kanepi was matching Williams’ power with booming groundstrokes of her own. She was getting better reads on Williams’ serves. And the 36-year-old American began making more and more mistakes.

When Williams shanked a backhand return of a 103 mph serve, the match was a little more than an hour old, and it was all tied at a set apiece. That was the first set she had lost against Kanepi of the 10 they’d played to that point, and the first set Williams had lost at the 2018 U.S. Open, including a 6-1, 6-2 victory over her older sister Venus on Friday night.

• • •

Rafael Nadal is back in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, where he won’t face a rematch of the 2017 final.

Instead, it’s a rematch of this year’s French Open final.

Nadal beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-4 on Sunday at Flushing Meadows. Next up is No. 9 seed Dominic Thiem.

Thiem beat Kevin Anderson 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (2), denying the fifth-seeded South African a second shot at Nadal.

Nadal beat Anderson last year for his third U.S. Open title.

The top-ranked Spaniard captured his 11th title in Paris by beating Thiem in straight sets in June. That was part of what’s now a 26-1 run since Thiem beat him in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open in May.

“He’s a very powerful player, and, yeah, he knows how to play these kinds of matches,” Nadal said. “Yeah, I need to play my best match of the tournament if I want to keep having chances to stay in the tournament.”

Nadal leads the series 7-3, with all the meetings on clay.

On Sunday, he responded to losing the third-set tiebreaker by breaking Basilashvili twice in the fourth set.

Anderson was hoping to be waiting for Nadal. His run to last year’s final was a surprise; At No. 32, he was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist in the history of the ATP rankings. But he backed that up with a strong season, reaching the Wimbledon final and earning the No. 5 seed in this tournament.

“Of course it’s disappointing,” Anderson said. “I wanted to be here right until the end and put myself in contention of winning my first major. It wasn’t meant to be.”

He had won six of seven meetings against Thiem, including all six on hard courts. Thiem’s only victory had come on clay, his best surface.

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