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Sloane Stephens’ upset victory over Serena Williams creates instant buzz

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Screencap from YouTube.

Screencap from YouTube.

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.

WERTHEIM: Stephens seizes her moment | Day 10 photos | Video: Serena smashes racket

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

  • Published On Jan 23, 2013
  • 2 comments
    ohs73
    ohs73

    Good, I'm glad the Aussie Open officials nailed Serena for her petulance.  She's gotten away with that crap for years. You ever notice in her pressers that she NEVER gives her opponent any credit when they win?  Serena is all about Serena, and to hell with everyone else.  She's a bully and a jerk.  The worst kind of competitor:  a bad winner.

    Penny1
    Penny1

    Jon Wertheim -- what wasted air space. A tweet to say 'hello world.' Meh. But then another one to say that Serena was 'gracious in defeat' and even 'charming'?? I'm sorry, but you can categorize smashing a racket on the ground in a lot of ways, but 'gracious and charming' are not them. Point in fact--she was fined $1500 for doing it so apparently the officials didn't find her actions very sportsmanlike. Williams is a bully. She has a history of screeching at line judges who don't please her, storming around the court like a bull in a china shop, and just all around being a bad role model for tennis in general. I'm glad you are such a fan of Williams, but you missed the mark with that tweet, completely. (And just as an aside, could I make a request? Please have someone proofread your copy! Your online articles have a lot of errors that really detract from the articles themselves.)