New York:Seeking her third grand slam victory of the year, Serena Williams withstood a strong test from Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain 6-3, 7-5 to advance to the fourth round of the US Open on Friday.
It was an awkward match in Arthur Ashe Stadium for defending champion Williams, full of counterpunches from the game's biggest power hitter.
"I heard a guy in the crowd saying, `Stop hitting lobs,' so I didn't hit any more lobs after that," Williams said. "My lob was not working today."
Receiving at 5-all in the first set, Williams chipped back serves, made a few passing shots and found herself at deuce for the eighth time in a game that lasted 12 minutes. Martinez Sanchez finally wore out, double-faulting twice in a row to give up the break and, essentially, the match.
"You can never underestimate anyone. Some people, some days, they have great days," said the No. 2-seeded Williams, whose sister Venus also won Friday. "I just go and look at every opponent as the best player in the world."
Perhaps some of her colleagues should take that approach, as well.
This has been a topsy-turvy U.S. Open for the women: No. 8 Victoria Azarenka's 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 26 Francesca Schiavone came a day after No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 5 Jelena Jankovic were upset. All told, 11 of the 20 highest-seeded women are gone, and the third round is only halfway done.
"Now there is not a lot of difference between players," Sanchez Martinez said. "I think anyone can win any match."
No. 3 Venus Williams, the 2000-01 Open champion, avoided adding to the list of stunning results when she got past 46th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-5. Next up for the elder Williams: A fourth-round match against Kim Clijsters, who recently came out of retirement and is playing in the tournament for the first time since winning it in 2005.
"She was a great champion," Venus Williams said. "She still is."
Other winners included No. 7 Vera Zvonareva of Russia, No. 10 Flavia Pennetta of Italy, No. 18 Li Na of China and No. 26 Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
No. 1 Dinara Safina made it to Saturday's third round, but barely. She needed more than 4 1/2 hours to get through two three-set victories.
"Nothing's a given. Everyone comes out, they play well _ if you aren't the better player that day, you're going home. That's just how it is," Venus Williams said. "There is depth on the women's tour, definitely."
The best men have faced no such problems: No. 3 Rafael Nadal's 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory Friday night in the last match of Day 5 means the men seeded 1-16 all reached the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in the 41-year Open era.
"There is a gap," said Jurgen Melzer, who lost to No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3.
Friday's other winners included No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 9 Gilles Simon. None of the top 10 men had even dropped a single set _ much less lost _ until 2008 runner-up Murray's little slip in his 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 win over 87th-ranked Paul Capdeville of Chile on Friday afternoon.
Capdeville and Murray know each other from way back, when both trained in Spain. Capdeville has seen Murray develop from a kid who would lose focus to a major title contender.
"Five years ago, he was a little young," Capdeville said. "Now he's a man."
Murray now faces Taylor Dent, a wild-card entry from Newport Beach, Calif., who used to be ranked 21st but missed two years after back surgery and now is 195th. Dent's impressive comeback continued Friday with a stirring 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 7-6 (9) victory over 119th-ranked Ivan Navarro of Spain.
They played for more than 4 hours before Dent finally prevailed. He grabbed the chair umpire's microphone to thank the raucous, partisan crowd for its support, then took a lap around the Grandstand arena, slapping palms with fans.
Also advancing were No. 16 Marin Cilic of Croatia, from two sets down against American Jesse Levine, No. 17 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.
Heading into No. 3 Rafael Nadal's match against Nicolas Kiefer late Friday, the top 16 men were 15-0 in the second round. According to the International Tennis Federation, never in the 41-year Open era have the men seeded 1-16 all advanced to the third round at any Grand Slam tournament.
"There is a gap," said Jurgen Melzer of Austria, who lost to del Potro 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3.
Williams and Martinez Sanchez were meeting for the first time since the French Open third round, when Williams won in three sets. After that match, Williams said she hit a ball she thought went off her opponent's arm, and accused Martinez Sanchez of cheating by not acknowledging it.
There was no sign of animosity on Friday, however, and Sanchez Martinez said: "We are players, and we see each other every week, and we have to have a good relation."
Williams, who came to her news conference wearing a T-shirt that said "Can't spell dynasty without nasty," lost only seven games in her first two matches. She doubled that total on Friday in the kind of match that very few have to play on the women's _ or men's _ circuit these days. Serve-and-volley is out, power groundstrokes are in.
"Every time I play, I say, `I'm going to be a serve-and-volleyer," Williams said. "I even used to like Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe. But I couldn't play more opposite than them. I love groundstrokes, I love rallies, I love hitting the ball."
Williams, bidding for her fourth U.S. Open title, next meets 22nd-seeded Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated American Vania King 6-2, 6-2.