Serena back in action as Kenin advances at US Open

New York (AFP) –

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Serena Williams continues her hunt for a record seventh US Open title on Thursday after second seed Sofia Kenin breezed into round three at Flushing Meadows.

Williams, the tournament's third seed, takes on unseeded Russian Margarita Gasparyan under the lights on day four's first evening match inside the main Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The 38-year-old is seeking a record-equalling 24th singles Grand Slam title at a subdued, spectator-free Billie Jean King US National Tennis Center in New York.

A tournament victory next week would also see her break away from Chris Evert, on six titles, as the most decorated US Open champion of the women's game in the modern era.

Williams' chances have been improved by the absence of several top players, included top-ranked Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, over coronavirus fears or injury.

She was handed a further boost on Wednesday when top seed Karolina Pliskova tumbled out of the tournament.

The Czech was stunned in straight sets by France's world number 50 Caroline Garcia.

Williams' American compatriot Kenin continued her impressive form this year with a straightforward 6-4, 6-3 victory over Canadian Leylah Fernandez to progress into the third round.

The reigning Australian Open champion Kenin is yet to drop a set at Flushing Meadows as she bids for her second Grand Slam title of the year, and of her career.

The Moscow-born player will take on 27th seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the next round.

In the men's draw on Thursday, Andy Murray takes on 15th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada for a spot in the third round.

The Scotsman came back from two sets down to win a thrilling five-set match first-round match against Japan's 49th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka on Tuesday.

Murray is playing in the singles at a Grand Slam for the first time since a first-round exit at the Australian Open in 2019.

- Pironkova return -

The 33-year-old is trying to rebuild his injury-ravaged career with a new metal hip that was installed last year.

In an early men's match Thursday, Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut progressed against Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Later, second seed Dominic Thiem of Austria goes up against Sumit Nagal, who is the first Indian man since 2013 to reach the second round of a Grand Slam.

And third see Daniil Medvedev is also gunning for a spot in the third round, taking on Australia's 116th-ranked Christoper O'Connell.

In the women's competition Thursday, Tsvetana Pironkova, returning after a lengthy time away from the game following the birth of her son, advanced at the expense of Garbine Muguruza.

The unseeded Bulgarian knocked out the 10th Spaniard 7-5, 6-3 in 1hr 21 min.

"Coming from three year of absence on the tour, you always have your doubts. Right now my results actually make me really happy because it shows that I did the right things preparing for this comeback," said Pironkova.

It has been more than three years since Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open -- when she was already pregnant with daughter Olympia.

Williams has come close since, reaching four major finals only to come away empty handed.