NEW YORK — With a sure-to-be-hyped rematch with Serena Williams in the offing at the U.S. Open, Sloane Stephens held up her end of the bargain.
Then Stephens — and the tennis world — needed to wait several hours to find out whether Williams would, too.
From the moment the women’s draw came out at Flushing Meadows, it was clear which potential fourth-round match was the most intriguing: defending champion Williams against up-and-coming talent Stephens.
“It’s something I think everyone is looking forward to,” Stephens said.
On a ho-hum afternoon devoid of any truly significant surprises, Stephens reached the round of 16 in New York for the first time by beating 23rd-seeded Jamie Hampton 6-1, 6-3 Friday.
Williams, seeking her fifth U.S. Open title, was scheduled to face 78th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan late Friday night, after things came alive a bit thanks to 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt’s stirring 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 comeback victory over 2009 winner Juan Martin del Potro.
It was the ninth time in the past 10 years that two previous title winners faced each other in New York; Hewitt was a participant in three of those in the past, going 0-3.
The 32-year-old Australian, a former No. 1 now ranked 66th after a series of injuries, repeatedly scrambled along the baseline to come up with passing winners against the sixth-seeded del Potro.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve got left in me. I keep getting asked the question,” said Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002. “I’m just pumped to get out on this court and try to put on a great show.”
Earlier, two other U.S. Open winners, defending champion Andy Murray and top-seeded Novak Djokovic, experienced only brief lulls before staying on course for a possible showdown in the semifinals.