By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
MASON — Angelique Kerber has Serena Williams within arm’s reach, and she’s trying not to think about it.
Kerber on Friday advanced to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open, staying on track to overtake Williams at No. 1. She overcame a sloppy first set and beat Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.
If Kerber wins the tournament, she’ll move ahead of Williams in next week’s WTA rankings. Williams has been No. 1 for 183 consecutive weeks, the second-longest such streak. She is the two-time defending champion but withdrew because of a sore shoulder.
And now, she could wind up getting passed by Kerber, who doesn’t want to put any more pressure on herself.
“Of course, everybody is asking me this question,” Kerber said. “And yeah, let’s see what happens in the next weeks or next days. When the time is ready, maybe I can reach the No. 1 (ranking). Still, it’s a long way. It’s closer than a few days ago when I sat here.”
Kerber has reached the final in Cincinnati once before, losing to Li Na in 2012. She was in trouble after a sluggish opening set on Friday — 17 unforced errors — but took control early in the second set. She had only seven unforced errors in the final set.
Karolina Pliskova also advanced with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova.
In the men’s bracket, Grigor Dimitrov reached the semifinals of a Masters event for the third time, beating top American Steve Johnson 7-6 (8), 6-2.
The men’s bracket is missing its top players. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and defending champion Roger Federer skipped the tournament because of injuries. Rafael Nadal is still getting back into playing shape after a wrist injury cost him two months and was knocked out of the tournament on Thursday.
Andy Murray is the only member of the Big Four still left. He won the gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, flew to Cincinnati and reached the quarterfinals despite a worn-down body and a nagging head cold. Murray, who has won a career-best 20 consecutive matches, was scheduled to play Friday night.
One of the Big Four has won 54 of the last 58 Masters events. The wide-open tournament provides a chance for someone like the unseeded Dimitrov to win a Masters title.
“I mean, I’m hoping I’m going to be playing here on Sunday,” Dimitrov said.
Despite the loss, Johnson will become the top American in the ATP rankings next week. John Isner has held the top spot since July 29, 2013.
Dimitrov will play Marin Cilic, who reached his first Masters semifinal when 19-year-old Borna Coric retired from their quarterfinal match. Coric had both knees taped for the first set, which Cilic won 6-2 in 28 minutes.
Milos Raonic also advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Dominic Thiem.