Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams set for a rematch in Toronto

Reuters, AFP-JIJI

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka advanced to the Rogers Cup quarterfinals on Thursday to set up their first meeting since the American’s infamous row with an umpire overshadowed last year’s U.S. Open final.

Osaka won her first career Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows but the title match will be remembered for Williams’ feud with Carlos Ramos, who warned her for a coaching violation before deducting a point and then a game for her behavior.

Williams, a three-time Rogers Cup champion, overcame a sluggish start on Thursday to earn a 7-5, 6-4 win over Russian qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Second seed Osaka then closed out the day’s action with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 win over Polish qualifier Iga Swiatek.

“I’ve been actually looking forward to playing her for a while,” Williams said of the Osaka matchup.

Williams, who is eager to get more hard-court matches under her belt before seeking a record-tying 24th career Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, came back from an early double-break down, helped in part by eight double-faults by Alexandrova in the first set.

The American eighth seed, in her first career meeting with Alexandrova, went down a break again and trailed 3-1 in the second, but her serve suddenly started to click as she stormed back to 3-3 and from there raced home.

“She played really well. She didn’t really give me any rhythm,” Williams said. “I wasn’t sure what would come, if it was going to be hard or soft or a winner or what so it was definitely a challenge for me.”

Osaka also had her hands full and needed to save a pair of set points before grabbing the opener against Swiatek.

The Australian Open champion made a quick start to the second set and seemed in control until Swiatek made a comeback, the 18-year-old winning over the crowd with her versatile play as the match wore on.

Osaka, 21, said she was excited about the chance to play Williams, someone she grew up watching and has beaten in their two previous meetings.

“Whenever I get the opportunity to play her it’s something that I feel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” said Osaka.

“It feels more like I am showcasing my skills to her like ‘look what I can do.’ So I will go into the match with that mentality.”

Defending champion Simona Halep, in her first event since winning last month’s Wimbledon, needed 67 minutes to secure a 6-2, 6-1 win over Russian wildcard Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Halep took a medical timeout in her previous match to have her left Achilles tended to and she said she still felt pain in the area against Kuznetsova but that it was feeling much better.

“The fact that I’m back in the quarterfinals here means a lot to me,” said Halep. “It feels like I’m getting back the rhythm which I had in Wimbledon.”

Up next for Halep will be in-form Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova, who breezed by former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2 and has yet to drop a set.

Nadal, Federer team up

World No. 2 Rafael Nadal said Thursday that he and longtime rival Roger Federer made a joint decision to stand for the ATP Player Council.

The 33-year-old Spaniard, an 18-time Grand Slam singles winner, confirmed the choice by the pair of icons at the ATP Montreal Masters after reaching the quarter-finals by beating Argentina’s Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4.

Federer, a 20-time Slam singles champion, and Nadal were elected by fellow players to fill two of the vacancies caused by the resignations of Robin Haase, Jamie Murray and Sergiy Stakhovsky prior to Wimbledon.

“We decided to be together out there,” Nadal said. “I will not be alone there. He will not be alone there.

“Both of us can (combine to) be a good power, good help for the sport in some way — hopefully in a better way.

“We are here to help and to know a little bit better what’s going on. Last year have been some up and downs in a lot of things.”

Controversy has arisen over the past months concerning various issues, with ATP Council president Novak Djokovic often on the opposite side of discussions from Nadal and Federer.

The world No. 1 has clashed with many fellow players with disagreements centered on the decision to dispense with the services of ATP chief executive Chris Kermode, a popular figure in tennis.

Splits widened at Wimbledon when Djokovic was taken to task over his relationship with the disgraced Justin Gimelstob. Former player Gimelstob, who has sat on the player council, pleaded no contest to assault charges in Los Angeles earlier this year for attacking a man in front of his wife and children at Halloween in 2018.

Djokovic has come under fire for refusing to rule out a possible return to the board for Gimelstob.

“I have friendly relationship with Justin,” said Djokovic at Wimbledon.

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