Serena Williams continues her run at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, edging 26 year-old Dutch Kiki Bertens in two sets,7-6(5), 7-5, to book a date with her sister Venus Williams in the third round.
It was a blistering encounter between the 23-time Grand Slam champion and Bertens who was a former French Open semi-finalist.
Serena who said she was still trying to reach her form outlasted her in just under two hours.
Venus in an earlier match had beaten world number 35 Romania Sorana Cirstea 6-3 6-4 in 79 minutes.
The match on Monday will be the first time the two sisters will clash on court, since the final of the Australian Open last year, which Serena won, even though she was already pregnant.
She had her baby in September and had skipped defending her Australian title, because she felt she was not ready yet to play. She featured in an exhibition match in Dubai and lost to Ostapenko and also played doubles with sister, Venus in the Fed Cup. Both lost the match.
Venus and Serena have faced each other 28 times in their legendary careers and they are now meeting in Serena’s first tournament back on the WTA Tour since she beat Venus 6-4, 6-4 in the 2017 Australian Open final.
“(We are) having to play each other in the third round, one of us is going to be gone,” Serena said. “I would prefer to play someone else, anybody else, literally anybody else, but it has to happen now. So it is what it is.”
“I mean, she looked like she never lost a step,” Venus said of her younger sister. “Great way to come back.”
Serena, 36 and vying to become the first woman to win three Indian Wells titles, clinched the victory against Bertens on her second match point when Bertens blasted a forehand wide.
Serena won 54 percent of her second-serve points and broke Bertens’s serve six times.
Still showing some rust from her long layoff, Serena hit just one ace and made 37 unforced errors to 32 for Bertens.
She takes a career head-to-head record over Venus of 17-11 into their third-round clash.
They met for the first time in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open which Venus won 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.
This is the earliest they will face each other since that Melbourne meeting 20 years ago.
Serena, unseeded in the wake of her long layoff, admitted she would have preferred not to come up against her sister so soon in the draw.
“It’s a huge difference to play her in the semi-finals or even the quarter-finals or a final as opposed to the third round. You know, we can always stay in the tournament longer if the both of us are in the tournament,” Serena said.
In 2001 they were slated to meet in the Indian Wells semi-finals when Venus withdrew, handing Serena a walkover.
Fans who felt cheated of a chance to see the siblings play, thinking it was a tactic orchestrated by their father Richard, booed Serena during her final triumph against Kim Clijsters.
The crowd’s treatment led to a 14-year boycott by the sisters, which Serena finally ended in 2015. This is just her third appearance in the California desert in 17 years.
Asked about the semi-final match that never happened, Serena said she has tried to forget.
“That’s totally gone out of my mind,” she said. “First of all, 17 years ago seems like forever ago.” (NAN)