NEW YORK - Let the mind games begin. On the eve of her much-anticipated match against Sloane Stephens in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, top-ranked Serena Williams says she doesn't consider herself the favorite to win.
"I definitely don't feel like I'm going in there as a favorite, because she's playing great, even though I'm playing good, too," Williams said after defeating Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 6-1 in a match that ended Saturday around 1 a.m.
The two have split their two meetings. Williams beat Stephens at the Brisbane International in January, but the younger American pulled even by defeating Williams at the Australian Open later that month.
"She really has nothing to lose and she excels in situations like that," Williams said. "So I think she'll be really good. I'll just have to see how it goes."
Actually, the mind games have been underway since the draw came out last week. The two have been peppered with questions about each other all week, and Williams has been effusive -- some might say overly so -- in her praise for Stephens.
"She's such a good player and she's so smooth," Williams said last week during her pre-tournament interview. "I always say she's just such a smooth player to watch. She just has this game and this confidence that's not easy to get.
"It's so good to see her doing so well. It's an honor to watch, really."
An honor to watch? Really?
Williams continued to pile on the praise in her next news conference.
"It was so good to see so many Americans doing good, mainly Sloane," Williams said. "She's such an inspiration to a lot of people."
Stephens was told of Serena's comments, and though she's flattered, she knows it's all empty talk unless she can live up to it.
"Coming from one of the greatest players to ever play the game, that feels really good," Stephens said. "I think it's awesome. But other than that, if you don't really live up to it, it's a wash. "
Stephens described her relationship with Williams, which has been rocky since their Australian Open match, as that of co-workers and Fed Cup teammates. "Love her," Stephens said. "She's a great competitor, one of the best players to ever play the game, like I said, coworker, teammate. There is not much else you can say. Just praise her. That's it. She's one of the greatest players to ever play the sport of tennis. That's it."