After a relatively upset-free start to the Australian Open women’s draw, all hell broke loose Friday for the third round.
Serena Williams had lost just one game in a 44-minute demolition of Qiang Wang at the US Open last fall, but the No. 1 from China, a huge underdog, stunningly turned the tables on the all-time great in an afternoon shocker in Melbourne.
Wang sent an early message quickly getting more games than she did in New York. Then she got the break and confidently closed out the opener. That got Serena’s attention.
Wang wouldn’t go away in the second and she kept Serena at bay with her serve and her quick court coverage which led to a slew of errors from the American. Wang got another break but this time couldn’t serve out the upset. Serena roared back to level and won her first tiebreak in years to force a decider.
Now it would go Serena’s way, right? Wrong.
The 28-year-old Wang wouldn’t relent as both held their serves. Serena was forcing the issue, Wang wouldn’t crack. At 5-6, looking toward a deciding super breaker, Serena came apart and Wang finished off the 7-time Australian champion 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 in 2 hours, 41 minutes.
“I think my team always believe I can do it,” said Wang to the crowd. “You know after last time I do really hard work on court and off the court so I think it’s really good work, yes, I believe I can do it.
“I don’t know, during the second set I was a little bit confused because I lost the second set,” she added. “I have to be calm, yes … my mind always told me I had to focus on court and trust myself.”
And Serena’s hopes for a record-tying 24th Slam fell away once again.
“She served well. I didn’t return like Serena,” said Serena who hit 56 unforced errors.
“If we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match. So it is what it is … it’s not about the tournament, it’s just like I can’t play like that. Like, I literally can’t do that again. That’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.
“I’m definitely going to be training tomorrow… That’s first and foremost, to make sure I don’t do this again.”
In the evening, Coco Gauff continued her incredible rise. The 15-year-old was crushed by Naomi Osaka at the US Open, winning just three games. Today, she again got to 3-all in the first, but this time it was Gauff all but running away with the match from there, 6-3, 6-4.
“Two years ago I lost first round in juniors. And now I’m here. It’s crazy. I’m on Rod Laver Arena. I can’t believe this,” Gauff told the crowd.
“Definitely (this victory) has to be somewhere around the top. I thought I played really well today and I was pretty composed and really calm,” she later added.
“She definitely plays faster than most players. I think at US Open I wasn’t really prepared for that. And today I definitely showed that I worked on that in the off-season.”
Gauff finished with just six winners to 17 unforced while the defending champion Osaka contributed 30 errors to 17 winners. Gauff also served extremely well.
“Her serve is way better than I played her last year,” Osaka said.
“But, yeah, it’s hard, because you learn more when you lose. The winner doesn’t really learn that much. I feel like I wasn’t really swinging freely and she was.”
Osaka also felt the pressure.
“I love her, but I don’t like this feeling of losing to her,” she added.
“I feel bad for Wim, for my entire team, Nana, Abdul, Ka-ru. We came here to win the tournament, and I’m the vessel that everyone’s hard work is put into. And I wasn’t able to do what I was supposed to do.”
In other matches, Petra Kvitova rocked Shenzhen champ Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-1, 6-2.
World No. 1 Ash Barty traded breaks early then broke away from Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-2. Alison Riske knocked out German veteran Julia Goerges and former semifinalist Madison Keys fell to Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4. The Greek Sakkari reaches her first Slam fourth round after failing seven times prior in the third round.
“It’s always for me very special to come back here because it’s like playing at home for me,” Sakkari said of the crowd. “Because unfortunately we don’t have a tournament yet in Greece, hopefully soon. So I really love them and they really make me play better and feel better on court. I really have only positive things to say about them.”
Sofia Kenin and Zhang Shuai were scheduled later.
Caroline Wozniacki bid her farewell to tennis. The 29-year-old who won the Australian Open in 2018, fell just short of moving on in a loss to Ons Jabeur 7-5, 3-6, 7-5. Jabeur, the first Arab woman into a Slam fourth round, was all over Wozniacki early, but the Dane fought back in the second and nearly completed the comeback in a tight, nervy third set.
Afterward, Wozniacki was joined on court by her family and husband David Lee.
“I think it was only fitting that my last match was a three-setter, a grinder and that I would finish my career with a forehand error,” Wozniacki told the crowd.
“Those are the things I’ve been working on my whole career. I guess this was meant to be.
“I’m always that person that even when I’m down a lot, I’ve always believed that I can come back and win,” she said in press. “I don’t think it mattered for me so much what the score was. I think throughout the match, there was a couple of times where I was like, ‘Shoot, this could be my last one. I don’t want it to be the last one. I want to be out there fighting.’ I fought like my life depended on it. It is just what it is.
“I think the result today doesn’t matter to me as much as the way that I fought, that I gave it everything, that’s what I’m known for.”
On Saturday, the third round wraps with Simona Halep back against the feisty Yulia Putintseva and 2-time Slam winner Garbine Muguruza meets No. 5 Elina Svitolina.
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