Melbourne: Serena Williams went down smashing rackets and screaming as she bowed out of the Australian Open quarterfinals yesterday, 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-times 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 semifinal against defending champion and world number one Victoria Azarenka, who came through a minor scare to beat Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"Oh my goodness," said Stephens, teary-eyed and almost lost for words after beating a player whose picture once adorned her bedroom wall. "This is so crazy, but oh my goodness, I think I'll put a poster of myself up now."
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, also 31, 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.
Tsonga, a finalist here in 2008, was tactically smart, sent down 20 booming aces and produced some brilliant forehands that overpowered even Federer's defences at times.
The 17-times grand-slam champion rode his luck on occasions, too, 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. The third-seeded Briton had spent just over seven hours on court in his previous four matches and needed only another 111 minutes to complete a one-sided hammering of the world number 36.
"I thought I did a pretty good job throughout the match," the Scot, who was wearing a T-shirt reading "PREPARE, ATTACK, DESTROY" for his news conference, said with typical understatement.