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Serena beats another compatriot to advance

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Top-seeded Serena Williams faced the toughest test yet in her U.S Open title defense before advancing to the round of 16 with a hard-played 6-3 6-3 win over Varvara Lepchenko on Saturday.

World number one Williams, who had lost a total of five games in her first two matches in a quest to win a third successive U.S. Open, battled for 95 wind-blown minutes against the left-hander, the third fellow American she has met in the tournament.

"My opponent today was spectacular. It was really a good match and it just shows how far Varvara has come, so I'm really proud of her," Williams said.

Williams was level 3-3 before running off the last three game of the opening set. Tied again at 3-3 in the second set, the 32-year-old, 17-times grand slam singles winner repeated the feat to claim victory over the 52nd-ranked Lepchenko.

Next up for Williams will be either 15th seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain or Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)