Serena Williams defeated Sloane Stephens to advance to the semifinal round… (Dave Hunt / EPA )
Serena Williams had a tough win over the woman she's predicting could one day top the rankings, setting up a semifinal match at the Brisbane International in Australia against current No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
The reigning Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic champion showed plenty of emotion on key points in a heavy-hitting duel with Fed Cup teammate Sloane Stephens on Thursday before winning, 6-4, 6-3.
Williams converted both break points and fended off one break chance against her in each set, later saying Stephens had the potential to be "the best in the world one day."
Williams has an 11-1 record against Azarenka and was 5-0 against the 23-year-old Belarussian in 2012, including the U.S. Open final.
Olympic and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray was pushed before winning his opening match, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, against Australian qualifier John Millman, who finished last year ranked No. 228.
Gael Monfils' comeback from injury took a hit when he lost to German qualifier Daniel Brands, 6-1, 7-5, in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open at Doha.
The Frenchman, who ended his season early in 2012 because of knee problems, beat Philip Kohlschreiber in three sets to reach the quarterfinals. But he came out sluggish against the 153rd-ranked Brands, struggling to return the German's serve and failing to chase down many of his forehands.
Brands will face second-seeded Richard Gasquet, who beat Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, 6-1, 6-3. Top-seeded David Ferrer defeated Paolo Lorenzi, 6-3, 6-0.
Ferrer will take on a resurgent Nikolay Davydenko, who routed Simone Bolelli of Italy, 6-1, 6-1, in 49 minutes, winning all five break points and nearly 80% of the first-service points.
Top-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and two-time champion Marin Cilic of Croatia reached the Chennai Open quarterfinals in India with contrasting styles.
Berdych stopped local hope Somdev Devvarman, 6-3, 6-1, and Cilic rallied past Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
O'Brien to stay at Penn State
Bill O'Brien is staying at Penn State.
O'Brien's agent, Joseph Linta, said Thursday night that the Nittany Lions' head coach attracted interest from several NFL teams for vacant jobs at the next level.
But Linta said the "heartstrings" of O'Brien's experience from Penn State's 8-4 season in his first year outweighed the potentially big raise he could have received as an NFL head coach.
O'Brien has been lauded for guiding Penn State to a successful season following severe NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell is headed to the NFL draft after a tireless junior season in which he carried the ball 382 times. Bell ran for 1,793 yards this season and caught 32 passes.
Jake McCabe and John Gaudreau scored two goals each to lead the United States to the final of the world junior hockey championships with a 5-1 win over Canada at Ufa, Russia.
In the final, the Americans will face defending champion Sweden. The Swedes beat Russia, 3-2, in a penalty shootout.
AC Milan players walked off the field because of racist chants, abandoning an exhibition match in the first half with lower-division club Pro Patria at Busto Arsizio, Italy.