Serena Williams laments 'worst two weeks' following exit to teenager Sloane Stephens

Tournament favourite struggled with injury

Serena Williams claimed she was “almost relieved it's over” after an injury-plagued Australian Open campaign ended at the hands of teenage prodigy Sloane Stephens.

Williams suffered a twisted ankle in her opening-round whitewash of Edina Gallovits-Hall and then saw her hopes of advancing to a semi-final meeting with Victoria Azarenka compromised today by a lower back problem sustained in the second set.

At the time, she was in front and looking good to secure a place in the last four in Melbourne for the sixth time but Stephens made the most of her good fortune to go through 3-6 7-5 6-4.

Asked if it was the worst two weeks she had ever had at a grand slam, Williams said: "At a grand slam, absolutely.

"I'm almost relieved it's over because there's only so much I felt I could do.

"It has been difficult. I have been thrown a lot of balls this week."

To focus solely on Williams would be unfair on Stephens, however.

The 19-year-old from Florida showed remarkable poise in her first grand slam quarter-final to come through against her fellow American and childhood hero.

She was competitive in the early going but a solitary break handed Williams the first set.

And when the 15-time major winner broke again to go 2-0 up in the second, few were expecting a comeback from the world number 25.

But she started swinging freely, perhaps realising that she needed to change tack to stand any chance of handing her opponent her first defeat since August.

And it worked. She got it back on serve before the momentum swung even further in her favour at 4-3 when Williams pulled up after charging to the net trying to run down a Stephens mis-hit.

Stephens promptly broke with Williams attempting to limit further damage by gently pushing the ball over the net.

But the teenager, 12 years Williams' junior, got the jitters in trying to serve out the set and the world number three - having left the court for a medical time-out - bravely returned to make it 5-5.

Stephens came again, though, taking the next two games to level the match.

Williams' frustration boiled over after three games of the decider as she was handed a code violation for smashing her racket into the court.

She was, at least, moving better at that stage as the medication prescribed earlier started to kick in.

Williams broke for a 4-3 lead but Stephens was not going away and she hit straight back before edging 5-4 up.

And this time it was Williams who buckled as a series of tired groundstrokes gifted Stephens the win of her life.

Having admitted to some pre-match doubts, Stephens revealed she gave herself a pep talk to restore some belief.

She said: "When I got up this morning I was like, 'look dude, you can do this - go out and play and do your best'."

Current world number one Azarenka earlier beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5 6-1 to keep the defence of her title on track.

Kuznetsova, a two-time former grand slam champion, proved she is over the knee surgery which forced her to miss the second half of 2012 with a wonderfully creative display - mixing clever angles with raw power.

But it was not enough to derail Azarenka, who, having edged the first set, ran through the second to register her 12th successive win in Melbourne.

"She played really well throughout the whole match," Azarenka said. "I know what kind of tennis she is capable of and in the beginning it took a little bit of adjustment because she has a very different game.

"I am glad I could produce my best tennis when it was needed."

Kuznetsova led 4-1 in the first set after displaying a brand of tennis which bamboozled the top seed.

But Azarenka eventually worked it out and powered her way back into the contest.

She broke back for 3-4 and then ramped up her performance level even further at 5-5 with a big forehand on break point edging her ahead for the first time in the match.

She served it out and then maintained the momentum by breaking in the opening game of the second.

Kuznetsova hit back immediately but she could not win another game as Azarenka marched on.

PA

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
videoJapanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Sport
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital