(January 23, 2012)-Serena Williams had been on a roll coming into the Australian Open in Melbourne. She claimed Olympic gold this past summer in London in both singles and doubles and also won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships in Istanbul this past fall. Williams didn’t appear to miss a step when she opened the 2013 season with a win in Brisbane a few weeks ago in her warm-up to the first grand slam of the year. In fact she hadn’t lost a match since losing in the quarterfinals to Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati last August.
The 3rd ranked player seemed destined to reclaim her number one ranking by merely making it to the finals in Melbourne but will now have to wait to claim that top spot. Sloane Stephens, 19 years old and ranked 25th in the world dealt a huge blow to the veteran when she was able to beat Williams in three sets 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Saddled with a lingering right ankle injury the past week since landing awkwardly on it during her first match of the tournament, it was a balky back that did Williams in when she began to experience back spasms in the second set. Her serve was clearly affected and she required an injury timeout to receive treatment from the trainers.
Despite clearly being in pain Williams came close to closing out the second set but Stephens was able to do just enough to push for a third set which she was able to ultimately close out.
Williams spoke about her injury after the match- “A few days ago it just got really tight and I had no rotation on it. I went for this drop shot in the second set today and it just locked up on me. It was a little painful, and I couldn’t really rotate after that, which I guess is normal. But it’s okay. It was what it was. I’ve had a tough two weeks between the ankle and my back – a lot of stuff, it was what it was.”
Williams battled heavy emotions throughout the match and smashed a racket in frustration in the third set. Unable to establish a consistent rhythm Williams let out audible screams throughout the set and never looked comfortable even as she was able to reestablish her serve. Stephens in the biggest match of her career was able to maintain her composure and will now play top ranked Victoria Azarenka for a spot in the finals.
The meeting of the two Americans in the quarterfinals appeared to be an opportunity for the young Stephens to continue to hone her craft as she has been making her way into the top rankings of the WTA. Stephens has never made it past the third round in a grand slam and has never even beaten a top ten opponent before yesterday. Not lost on the young tennis player was the fact that she beat a player that she has idolized since picking up the sport at age nine.
“Oh my goodness,” said Stephens after the match clearly at a loss for words. “This is so crazy, but oh my goodness, I think I’ll put a poster of myself up now.”
Stephens will not have much time to relish the win, her match against Azarenka is today giving her less than 24 hours to refocus on perhaps an even loftier goal: winning the Australian Open.