Photo: Paul ZimmerSloane Stephens (USA) and Serena Williams (USA)
Tournament favourite Serena Williams is out of the Australian Open after a stunning performance from American teenager Sloane Stephens. The 19-year old – who grew up idolising Williams - battled the five-time Australian Open champion and 15-time Grand Slam champion to a 36 75 64 victory on Rod Laver Arena to reach the semifinals.
Serena lost control emotionally and suffered a back seizure in the latter stages of the match but Stephens remained unperturbed throughout the 2 hour 17 minute encounter. For Serena, who has dealt with all sorts of mishaps during her run at the Australian Open, it had been “the worst two weeks”.
Stephens first made a name for herself on the ITF Junior Circuit, amassing multiple titles including three junior Grand Slam doubles in 2010. And she hasn’t disappointed as a pro. She earned a career-high ranking of world No. 25 the week before the start of the Australian Open and has now assured herself as one of the hottest properties in women’s tennis - and on Twitter.
Facing the media after her ground-breaking win, she explained: “Yesterday someone asked me ‘do you think you can win?’I was like yeah, I think so, but I wasn’t too clear about it.
“Then this morning when I got up, I was like, look, dude, like, you can do this. Go out and play and do your best. I think I was convinced that I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set and I went down 2‑0. I was like, hmm, this is not the way you want it to happen. But if you just fight and 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. I just kind of just kind of played my game from there, I think.”
Stephens, who had only reached the fourth round at a major on one previous occasion, will now face world No. 1 and defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. The two have never met before.
Azarenka ended comeback queen Svetlana Kuznetsova’s run 75 61 in the quarterfinals. The Russian, who had spent the last six months of the 2012 season sidelined with a knee injury, had impressed on her return this year but is aware she needs to work hard to get back to her two-time Grand Slam-winning ways.
“I feel like I have game. You know, I can play. But I feel I need to improve my fitness, to improve my consistency, the serve.”
In the men’s quarterfinals, Andy Murray faced few problems to advance to the semifinals, comfortably defeating Frenchman Jeremy Chardy – who had ousted 6th seed Juan Martin del Potro in the third round - 64 61 62 in just 1 hour 51 minutes.
“Today was the best I’ve played so far,” he said. “I struggled in my last few rounds and I knew he’d beaten some top players. I knew I had to be sharp. I moved well today.”
The No. 3 seed, who won the last Grand Slam, the 2012 US Open, will compete in his 12th Grand Slam semifinal. He will face Roger Federer who was pushed to five sets by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his quarterfinal and needed five match points to close out the 76 46 76 36 63.
Murray and Federer will meet for the 20th time in their careers and for the fourth time in a Grand Slam final. Federer was won all four of their previous finals and all in straight sets, including here in Melbourne in 2010.