Brisbane: Angelique Kerber narrowly avoided the fate of five other seeded players at the Brisbane International, fighting back from 2-5 down in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) in the second round on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old Puig, ranked No. 124, led 4-1 in the third set and was only two points from what would have been her biggest ever victory when she dumped a swinging volley into the bottom of the net in the tiebreaker, letting the No. 4 seeded Kerber back into the contest. Kerber remained composed and weathered the deep, powerful groundstrokes from Puig, who left the court in tears after an unforced error on the third match point.
"For sure it was a surprise how she played. I didn't know her before, but, yeah, I'm sure that she'll be coming very soon [in] top 50," Kerber said of Puig. "I have a lot of confidence right now that I won again [a] very close match like this."
After No. 2 Maria Shaparova withdrew due to a collarbone injury and with the players seeded Nos. 5-8 already eliminated, Kerber helped salvage the prospects of the top 10 players at the tournament by joining No. 3 ranked Serena Williams in the quarter-finals.
Williams, who has won 33 of her 34 matches since a shocking first-round exit at the French Open in June, will next meet 19-year-old Sloane Stephens, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson.
Stephens has hit up against her childhood idol in Fed Cup practice, and is looking forward to their first match. "Obviously she's been a really great influence in my tennis year career. I'm excited to play her and get on the court with her. I think it'll be fun," Stephens said.
Williams said she has been following Stephens's career and was "a fan" of the young American's style. In her first tournament back since being sidelined by an abdominal injury following the US Open, Stephens isn't overawed by the prospect of a quarter-final against the 15-time Grand Slam winner.
"Obviously I always was like, 'Oh, my God. I love her to death. She's amazing, whatever,'" Stephens recalled of her earliest meetings with Serena Williams. "Now she's like an actual person and I'm like, 'Oh, hi. How is it going?' She's not like a hero anymore. She's just a friend.
"Even if I go out there and lose, just bomb it, I don't win a game, at least if I'm able to focus on myself and do what's right for me, then it's not a loss."