Serena Williams’ dominating run at the majors is over as an American teenager Sloane Stephens is headed to the semifinals of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament.
Williams hurt her back in the eighth game of the second set, hampering her serve. She had treatment and recovered well enough to give herself a shot at winning the match, but the 19-year-old Stephens kept her composure in a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory on Wednesday.
It was the first loss since Augest 17 for the 15-time Grand Slam winner, ending a run of 20 consecutive wins. She hadn’t lost a match at a Grand Slam tournament since the French Open, where her first-round exit sparked a resurgence in the second half of 2012 that included titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, the US Open and the WTA Championship.
After winning her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, Stephens next plays defending champion Victoria Azarenka. Williams walked around the net to congratulate Stephens, who then clapped her hand on her racket and waved to the crowd, a look of disbelief on her face.
She then went to her tennis bag, pulled out her phone and started checking for any text messages from her mother. “I was hoping she had texted me right away. I thought maybe she was texting me during the match,” Stephens said. “I’m sure my grandparents are like freaking out.”
Stephens has said she had a photo of Williams up in her room when she was a child, and had long admired the Williams sisters. “This is so crazy. Oh my goodness,” Stephens said, wiping away tears in her post-match TV interview. “I think I’ll put a poster of myself [up] now.”
For her part, Williams said the bad back was just another problem to contend with at a Grand Slam event that had been “absolutely” her worst for injuries. “Everyone at this stage in the locker room has something wrong with them. It’s no excuse,” she said. “I went for this drop shot and it just locked up on me. I couldn’t really rotate after that. “It was a little painful, but it’s OK.”
Williams was up a set and a break before Stephens settled in. In the eighth game of the second set, Williams was chasing a drop shot to the net when she appeared to jar her back. She needed a medical timeout after the set, and then slowly started to regain the speed in her serve.