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Defending champ Serena Williams reaches quarter-finals

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serena Williams dealt with her grand slam frustrations this year by trying to appreciate the big picture, and a more relaxed top seed reaped the benefits with a straight-set win into the U.S. Open quarter-finals.

Williams is gunning for her third U.S. Open title in a row but for the moment she saw her 6-3 6-3 Monday victory over Kaia Kanepi as an important hurdle after failing to get past the fourth round in this year's other grand slams.

"I never thought it would be so exciting," the world number one told reporters with a big smile after her 65-minute victory over the Estonian.

"Yeah! It feels good."

So eager to get back to her accustomed presence late in a slam event, Williams celebrated prematurely in the second set when she jumped up and thrust her arms after 50th-ranked Kanepi netted a backhand on break point that made it 5-3 in her favor.

Top seeded Williams failed to serve out the match, but made amends by breaking Kanepi for the fourth time in the set to claim victory and advance to the last eight at Flushing Meadows.

"I finally made a quarter-final this year!" she shouted to the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd with arms upraised. "Glad to do it in New York."

Williams moved ahead to a battle of 32-year-olds against Italian 11th seed Flavia Pennetta, a semi-finalist last year who advanced with a 7-5 6-2 win against 29th-seeded Australian Casey Dellacqua.

Williams has had a disappointing spell, eliminated in the fourth round of the Australian Open, a round earlier at Wimbledon and in the second round at Roland Garros.

"I'm a perfectionist, I always want to be the best, do the best. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, particularly in the slams," explained Williams about her grand slam struggles.

"Had a couple nagging injuries that definitely didn't help. But other than that, it was just that," she continued.

"Now I'm more relaxed. I feel like I don't have to win any more. I've had a wonderful career. Tennis has given me so much, things I would have never expected in my life."

Williams said there was no moment of epiphany. "I just have been trying to see bigger picture kind of thing."

Making the quarters would seem like old hat to Williams, who has won 17 career grand slam singles crowns and is bidding to become the first woman to win three U.S. titles in a row since Chris Evert claimed four straight from 1975-1978.

But she certainly appreciates it now.

"Obviously I don't want this to end," Williams said about her campaign at the season's last grand slam.

"But I'm just happy that I'm able to be performing a little better at the end of the year."

(Fixes headline. No change to copy.)

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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