Serena Williams to face Sloane Stephens in a battle of former US Open champions

Serena Williams moved into the third round of the US Open and a meeting with fellow American Sloane Stephens as she took a step closer to the magic 24.

The 38-year-old American came through against Russian world No 117 Margarita Gasparyan 6-2 6-4 on Arthur Ashe.

Williams requires one more Grand Slam to equal Margaret Court’s singles record, but has been stuck on 23 titles since winning the 2017 Australian Open.

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But with the field decimated by withdrawals coupled with the shock defeat suffered by top seed Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday, Williams has an increasingly clear run to a seventh Flushing Meadows crown.

Williams will meet fellow American and former champion Sloane Stephens, who beat Olga Govortsova 6-2 6-2, in round three.

“I’m just happy to get through and try to focus on the next round,” said Williams.

“Sloane is such a good player, she plays so smooth. She looks like she is not taking a lot of energy and then suddenly bam! Five winners.”

During her press conference, she added: “I’ve just got to get ready for the match. It doesn’t really change. Always going to be intense. Always going to be, you know, who I am on the court, so that’s the only thing I can do.

“And the only difference is I’m playing such a good player so early, so I have to bring, you know, what I can even more.”

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Unseeded Victoria Azarenka put fellow Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka firmly in her place with an emphatic 6-1 6-3 victory.

The 31-year-old former world No 1 has twice reached the final at Flushing Meadows and signalled that she will take some stopping this year in her contest with the fifth seed.

Azarenka whipped through the first set in less than half an hour as her Fed Cup team mate Sabalenka sprayed 17 unforced errors on the Louis Armstrong Stadium court.

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