NEW YORK -- With a sure-to-be-hyped rematch with Serena Williams in the offing at the U.S. Open, Sloane Stephens held up her end of the bargain.
Then Stephens -- and the tennis world -- needed to wait several hours to find out whether Williams would, too. Williams won, and the rematch was on.
From the moment the women's draw came out at Flushing Meadows, it was clear which potential fourth-round match was the most intriguing: defending champion Williams against up-and-coming talent Stephens.
"It's something I think everyone is looking forward to," Stephens said.
On a ho-hum afternoon largely devoid of any truly significant surprises, Stephens reached the round of 16 in New York for the first time by beating 23rd-seeded Jamie Hampton 6-1, 6-3 Friday.
Stephens surprisingly won her Australian Open quarterfinal against Williams in January, one of only four losses in 66 matches for Williams in 2013.
Williams, seeking her fifth U.S. Open title, beat 78th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-1. Things came alive a bit before that, thanks to 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt's stirring 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 comeback victory over 2009 winner Juan Martin del Potro.
It was the ninth time in the past 10 years that two previous title winners faced each other in New York; Hewitt was a participant in three of those in the past, going 0-3.
The 32-year-old Australian, a former No. 1 now ranked 66th after a series of injuries, repeatedly scrambled along the baseline to come up with passing winners against the sixth-seeded del Potro.
"I don't know how many years I've got left in me. I keep getting asked the question," said Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002. "I'm just pumped to get out on this court and try to put on a great show."
Earlier, two other U.S. Open winners, defending champion Andy Murray and top-seeded Novak Djokovic, experienced only brief lulls before staying on course for a possible showdown in the semifinals.
About 40 minutes into his match, Djokovic faced two set points, but he erased those thanks to errors by his opponent, and after adjusting to the swirling wind, wound up defeating 87th-ranked Benjamin Becker 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-2. Murray dropped a set but finished well, taking the last five games of his 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 victory over 81st-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina.
During the day session, the only seeded man to bow out was No. 17 Kevin Anderson, a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 loser against 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.