There were some tense moments in the end, but Serena Williams battled past Margarita Gasparyan in straight sets on Thursday night to set up a blockbuster third-round clash against Sloane Stephens.

For most of her second-round match, Serena was at her best—she hit 27 winners to just 16 unforced errors in the match—but things got dicey towards the end as she watched a 6-2, 4-2 lead evaporate to 6-2, 4-4, even facing a break point that would have given Gasparyan a chance to serve for the set.

But Serena held on and then broke one last time to close it out after an hour and 33 minutes, 6-2, 6-4.

She was asked in her on-court interview about the topsy-turvy finish to the second set.

“It wasn’t that frustrating. I felt like she returned really well,” Serena said. “I was out here and fighting and it was just a minor setback, and if anything, it helped me know what not to do next time.”

And there was one aspect of her game that she was particularly pleased with.

"I competed well. I'm just here to continue to compete, so I feel like I did that pretty well," she said.

"It was pretty good."

Serena Williams battles into third round, where Sloane Stephens awaits

Serena Williams battles into third round, where Sloane Stephens awaits


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Awaiting No. 3 seed Serena in the third round will be the No. 26 seed, Stephens, who cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 victory earlier in the day against Olga Govortsova, who—like Serena—is a mom on tour.

Serena leads Stephens in their head-to-head, 5-1. They split their first two meetings during the Australian season in 2013, with Serena winning in the quarterfinals of Brisbane and Stephens getting revenge in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, but Serena’s won all four of their meetings since.

“She’s such a good player. She’s so smooth, and then bam, there’s like five winners,” Serena said.

“She’s won here before, and she’s beaten me before, so it’s not going to be easy.”

Stephens was asked in her post-match press earlier in the day about playing Serena.

"Well, I know if there were fans it would be so lit, and I'm kind of sad we're not playing in front of fans because it would be so fun," the 2017 US Open champion said. "But no, it's another good opportunity to play. Thankful that we're playing in this time just in general. Obviously no fans, the atmosphere won't be as big, but obviously a big opportunity to play against the greatest player in the world."

Serena has reached the second week of the US Open in 18 of her 19 appearances at the event, her only Week 1 loss coming in her 1998 debut, where she fell to Irina Spirlea in the third round.

She's reached at least the semifinals in her last 10 trips to Flushing Meadows.