MELBOURNE, Australia — Sloane Stephens has heard a lot of advice from Serena Williams. Pointers on her groundstrokes, and even on her grunts.
It’s been mostly gentle encouragement, occasionally spiced with headline-making comments from Williams, who has predicted the 19-year-old American will one day top the women’s rankings.
As Stephens learned earlier this month, though, it’s one thing to play with Williams, another to play against the 15-time Grand Slam champion.
When they meet Wednesday at the Australian Open, Williams will have the experience of 34 previous Grand Slam quarterfinals behind her. With a comeback 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win over Bojana Jovanovski, Stephens qualified for her first quarterfinal at a major tournament.
“It will be tough, obviously. It’s quarters of a Grand Slam,” Stephens said. “There won’t be that, like, first time, ‘Oh, my God, I’m playing Serena.’ That’s kind of out of the window now. So that’s good.”
Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka advanced Monday, losing just four games between them against Russian rivals. Williams beat No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, 6-2, 6-0, and Azarenka defeated Elena Vesnina, 6-1, 6-1.
In today’s early matches, Li Na advanced to the semifinals for the third time in four years, bringing fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska’s 13-match winning streak to a shuddering halt.
And No. 4 David Ferrer continued his career-long mastery of Nicolas Almagro, rallying from two sets down for a 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win in the quarterfinals.
He will play either top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, or Tomas Berdych in the semifinals following their match today.
On the men’s side Monday, No. 2 Roger Federer and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray stayed on course for a semifinal in their half of the draw.
Federer took a 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, advancing to the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam for the 35th consecutive time, while Murray took advantage of Gilles Simon’s fatigue for a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Federer will face 2008 Australian finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat friend and fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Murray, who ended a 76-year drought for British men in Grand Slam tournaments with a win at the U.S. Open, will next play unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
Chardy followed up his upset win over 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 21 Andreas Seppi.
Williams played Stephens at the Brisbane International earlier this month, winning their quarterfinal, 6-4, 6-3, en route to the title. That night, Stephens said, she “lost to the best player in the world.”
It was a lesson. The friendly Serena from the locker room is the ultimate competitor — she’s on a 20-match winning roll and has lost only once since her first-round exit at the French Open.
“She’s obviously one of the greatest players to ever play the game, but you’ve just got to go and treat it like another match,” Stephens said. “Without the titles, with the titles, it’s still a tennis match. The court’s the same size.”