MELBOURNE, Jan 23: Serena Williams went down smashing rackets and screaming as she bowed out of the Australian Open quarter-finals on Wednesday, hampered by a back injury and beaten in three sets by fellow American Sloane Stephens.
The injury robbed Williams of her serve — the most effective weapon in women’s tennis — but teenager Stephens will take much credit for holding her nerve to finish off the ailing 15-time Grand Slam champion.
Roger Federer’s bid to emulate Williams as a five-times Melbourne Park champion survived a five-set test at the hands of an inspired Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the Swiss marched on to a last-four meeting with Andy Murray, who crushed Jeremy Chardy.
Stephens will have 24 hours to prepare for her first Grand Slam semi-final against defending champion and world No 1 Victoria Azarenka, who came through a minor scare to beat Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The 31-year-old Williams, odds-on favourite to claim a third successive Grand Slam crown, pulled up to avoid hitting the net after a backhand drop shot early in the second set and shrieked as she felt the full force of a back spasm.
After lengthy treatment, Williams continued but the power of her serve and groundstrokes were considerably diminished and 19-year-old Stephens took advantage in impressive fashion to run out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 winner in Rod Laver Arena.
Federer started his match against Tsonga by breaking the Frenchman but it was just one of nine breaks in an absorbing three-and-a-half-hour contest that see-sawed back and forth all evening.
The 17-time Grand slam champion rode his luck on occasions but had something in reserve for the deciding set and finally overcame the seventh seed’s resistance with a smash on his fifth match point to clinch a 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 win.
Murray, the US Open champion, ruthlessly exploited Frenchman Chardy’s weaker backhand with a number of successful raids to the net in his 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Azarenka had barely been tested on her way to the last eight and the 77-minute first set against former US Open and French Open champion Kuznetsova was longer than her entire fourth-round match.
Azarenka rode the storm, however, and the slices with which the Russian world No 75 had bamboozled the Belarussian grew steadily less effective as the world No 1 drove home her advantage to win 7-5, 6-1.
Results (prefix number denotes seeding): Men’s singles: Quarter-finals: 2-Roger Federer (Switzerland) bt 7-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3; 3-Andy Murray (Britain) bt Jeremy Chardy (France) 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.
Women’s singles: Quarter-finals: 29-Sloane Stephens (US) bt 3-Serena Williams (US) 3-6, 7-5, 6-4; 1-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) bt Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) 7-5, 6-1.
Men’s doubles: Quarter-finals: 1-Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (US) bt Daniele Bracciali (Italy)/Lukas Dlouhy (Czech Republic) 6-3, 7-5; Simone Bolelli/Fabio Fognini (Italy) bt Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah (Colombia) 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Women’s doubles: Semi-finals: Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua (Australia) bt Varvara Lepchenko (US)/Zheng Saisai (China) 6-2, 6-4; 1-Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (Italy) bt 4-Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (Russia) 6-2, 6-4.
Mixed doubles: Quarter-finals: Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan)/Denis Istomin (Uzbekistan) bt Nuria Llagostera Vives/David Marrero (Spain) 6-4, 7-5; Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic)/Marcin Matkowski (Poland) bt Hsieh Su-Wei (Chinese Taipei) /Rohan Bopanna (India) 6-2, 6-3.—Reuters