Sloane Stephens pulled off the unthinkable Wednesday, knocking out 15-time Slam champion Serena Williams 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the Australian Open semifinals. Williams looked well on her way to a routine straight-set win when she reaggravated a back injury she said she sustained a few days ago. Stephens, 19, took advantage to make her first Grand Slam semifinal, where she’ll face No. 1 Victoria Azarenka on Thursday.
Highlights of Stephens’ victory
Has there been a better postmatch reaction than Stephens’ look of utter shock and surprise?
After the match, the normally even-keeled Stephens was moved to tears during her on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs.
The match in their own words
• Stephens on her belief heading into the match: “Last night I was thinking about it and I was like someone asked me like, ‘Do you think you can win?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I think so,’ but I wasn’t like too clear about it. Then this morning when I got up, I was like, Look, dude, you can do this. Go out and play and do your best.”
• Stephens on the pressure and intimidation of playing Williams: “I actually had to think in my head [during the warmup], I was like, Do they really have to read all of her championships? I was like, Really? … I literally was thinking in my head, Is he seriously reading every single tournament she’s won? It was OK. I thought about it for two seconds, but it was fine.”
• Stephens on going straight for her phone to check messages after the win: “I couldn’t really do anything because the messages were coming in, so I couldn’t read anything. I was like, Wait, this is pointless. So I just put it down. But, yeah, my mom. I couldn’t reach my mom. I called. So I had to call my brother and he couldn’t even talk. He was like freaking out. I was like, OK, where’s mom? I was like, OK, never mind. Bye.”
• Williams on her back injury: “A few days ago it just got really tight and I had no rotation on it. I went for this drop shot in the second set and it just locked up on me.”
She added: “I’ve actually been injury free for a while until I got to this tournament, and just fell and had the ankle issues. I think that kind of started everything up the chain because I’m compensating and maybe it made my back hurt.”
• Williams on her mid-match comment that this was the worst two weeks of her life: “For a Grand Slam, absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, my gosh, I’m almost relieved that it’s over because there’s only so much I felt I could do. I was unaware the microphones picked that up. But, oh my gosh, it’s been a little difficult. I’ve been thrown a lot of [curve] balls these two weeks.”
• Williams on whether she thought about retiring from the match: “I thought about it like for a nanosecond. I mean, it’s a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam.” Williams added that she’d have to be taken “off in a wheeler before I retire.”
• Williams on the importance of the No. 1 ranking: “For me, I’m trying for Grand Slams and to win titles, get to 50 titles [she has 47 singles titles]. … No. 1 is awesome if I get it. Like I said, I think I’ll get there one day. If not, I’ve had it, so it is what it is. But for me it’s definitely more about doing well in tournaments.”
Go Figure: The match by the numbers
• Williams had won 39 of her last 40 matches, with the only loss coming to Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati in August. She had not lost a set in 20 straight matches.
• Williams lost to a younger American for the first time.
• Stephens beat a top-10 player for the first time.
• Stephens is the first American teen to reach a major semifinal since 2001.
• Stephens is into her first Slam semifinal, where she’ll face No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
• Stephens is set to rise to a career high of No. 17, making her the youngest player in the top 20. But if she makes the final, she’ll move to No. 12, and if she wins the title, she’ll be No. 11.
• Despite the loss, Williams can still finish the tournament with the No. 1 ranking unless Azarenka wins the title or Maria Sharapova makes the final. In other words, she’s going to be a really big Sloane Stephens and Li Na fan on Thursday during the semifinals. Small consolation.
Twitter reaction to the match
Hello, world …….—
Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 23, 2013
Challenge.. Maybe tennis will become interesting again. I've seen enough Serena to last a life time..lol—
Jennifer Capriati (@JenCapriati) January 23, 2013
Wow. What a win for sloane. Some amazing defense. She gets every ball back.—
Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) January 23, 2013
Just found out her dad is John Stephens from the Pats. (that's my real name) I had his football card when I was a kid. I was so proud, haha—
John Legend (@johnlegend) January 23, 2013
Serena not merely gracious in defeat. Downright charming, I would contend, esp. under the circumstances….—
Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 23, 2013