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Williams digs deep for New York win

Serena Williams returns a shot in the Western & Southern Open
Serena Williams was playing her first match in the Western and Southern Open after receiving a first-round bye

Serena Williams overcame a scare against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus to reach the Western and Southern Open third round in New York.

American Williams, 38, stopped Rus serving out the match at 6-5 before winning 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 7-6 (7-0) in almost three hours.

Rus, ranked 72nd in the world, became edgy as a memorable win loomed and it was costly.

“It was a real physical match,” said 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams.

“I played pretty well, I was being aggressive and hit some good shots, but she just kept fighting.”

The two-time champion will play Greece’s 13th seed Maria Sakkari in the third round.

It was a far from a convincing performance from Williams, who appeared to struggle in the New York heat in the second set and failed to serve out victory at 5-3 in the deciding set.

Williams, ranked ninth in the world, will be looking for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title when the US Open starts on 31 August at Flushing Meadows.

It will be the first major since the professional tours resumed this month after being suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Western and Southern Open is usually held in Cincinnati but has been moved to Flushing Meadows to create a two-tournament safety bubble.

Williams, seeded third, is the highest-ranked player left in the draw after Czech top seed Karolina Pliskova and American Sofia Kenin lost their opening matches.

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