Drama queen Serena Williams exited the Australian Open on Wednesday in typical Serena fashion, amidst smashed racquets, screaming and various injuries in losing to fellow American and No. 20 seed Sloane Stephens 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in quarterfinal play.
“Oh my gosh, it’s been a little difficult,” Williams said of the Australian fortnight where through five rounds she had injured her ankle, hit herself in the face with her racquet during a point, and against Stephens saw the recurrence of a back injury that she said had flared up a few days prior.
“I even screamed on the court. I was like, ‘Ahh.’ I totally locked up after that,” she said of her back injury. “It was just like — it was a little painful. But, I mean, it’s OK. It was what it was.”
Her first loss since August 2012 in Cincinnati, the result put a halt to her streak of 21 straight matches won.
“I don’t know how many unforced errors I ended up hitting, but for sure more in one set than I probably did in the whole tournament,” she said. “So I think her level was high. But as for my end, I mean, you can tell. You each can say this is definitely not my best match in months.”
Williams had 48 unforced errors to 39 for Stephens, who is through to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Williams built a 6-3, 2-0 lead before running for a drop shot set that off the back injury. In the third set Williams broke to go up 4-3, but Stephens won the last three games against the injured former No. 1.
“Last night someone asked me, ‘Do you think you can win?’ I thought about it and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think so,’ but I wasn’t too clear about it,” said Stephens, who did not have a win over a Top 10 player entering the match. “This morning when I got up, I was like, ‘Dude, like, you can do this. Like go out and play and do your best. I think I was convinced I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set and went down 2-0. I was like, ‘Hmm, this is not the way you want it to happen. But just fight and just get every ball back, run every ball down, and just get a lot of balls in play. I think you’ll be okay. From then on I got aggressive, started coming to the net more, and just got a lot more comfortable.”
In the semifinals Stephens will have another tall order in world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who on Wednesday defeated former world No. 2 Svetlana Kuznersova 7-5, 6-1, recovering from a 1-4 first set deficit.
Kuznetsova missed the second half of 2012 with a knee injury, and came out swinging against the world No. 1.
“I feel like at the beginning it was a little bit like play around, a lot of back and forth,” Azarenka said. “We were both producing good tennis, but I felt like she was a little bit on top of me on the important moments. I didn’t really take advantage, and she did. That’s why she had the lead at the start. But then I turned it around and took control in my hands. That’s what I felt was a turning point.”
Azarenka also confirmed to the press afterwards that she is not a robot.
“It would be silly to say I’m not excited, I’m not nervous,” she said. “I think the person who is never nervous is a really scary person. I mean, that person is a robot, really. Everybody has emotions. It’s just a matter of how well you can control them for you to feel good before you go on the court, or when you’re on the court. It’s just a matter of how well you prepare yourself mentally, physically, to be in the state of mind that you want to be out there on the tennis court.”
The players will step right back onto the court Thursday for the women’s semifinals, featuring (2) Maria Sharapova vs. (6) Na Li, and (1) Azarenka vs. (29) Stephens.
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