Williams loses in quarters; Azarenka into semis
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Serena Williams' dominating run at the majors ended in a painful loss to American teenager Sloane Stephens.
After the biggest victory of her life, the 19-year-old Stephens is headed to the semifinals of the Australian Open.
Williams hurt her back in the eighth game of the second set, slowing down her serve, restricting her movement and causing her obvious pain.
Stephens kept her composure, blocking out the injury issue on the opposite side of the net, and rallied for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory on Wednesday — by far the most significant in her seven Grand Slams.
The gravity of it didn't hit Stephens until she was warming down, and even then the victory had an unreal feeling.
"I was stretching, and I was like, 'I'm in the semis of a Grand Slam.' I was like, 'Whoa. It wasn't as hard as I thought.' But it's pretty cool," she said. "To be in the semis of a Grand Slam is definitely I say a good accomplishment. A lot of hard work."
It was Williams' first loss since Aug. 17, ending a run of 20 consecutive wins.
The 15-time major winner hadn't lost a match at a Grand Slam tournament since the French Open, where her first-round exit sparked her resurgence in the second half of 2012 that included titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championship.
After winning her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, Stephens next plays defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
In the men's draw, U.S. Open champion Andy Murray moved into the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win over unseeded Jeremy Chardy of France.
The No. 29-seeded Stephens had been given barely a chance of beating Williams, who lost only four matches in 2012 and was in contention to regain the No. 1 ranking at the age of 31.
Williams' latest winning streak included a straight-sets win over Stephens at the Brisbane International earlier this month.
And Stephens wasn't even sure that she could beat Williams, until she woke up Wednesday.
"When I got up, I was like, 'Look, Dude, like, you can do this.' Like, 'Go out and play and do your best," she said.
It wasn't until after losing the first set and being broken in the first game of the second that she really convinced herself she could.
"I was like, 'Hmm, this is not the way you want it to happen. But you just fight and just get every ball back, run every ball down, and just get a lot of balls in play, I think you'll be OK.'
"From then on I got aggressive, started coming to the net more, and just got a lot more comfortable."
She started hitting winners, cutting down on the errors, and pushing the injured Williams around the court.
Williams walked around the net to congratulate Stephens, who then clapped her hand on her racket and waved to the crowd, a look of disbelief on her face.
She then went to her tennis bag, pulled out her phone and started checking for any text messages from her mother.
"I was hoping she had texted me right away. I thought maybe she was texting me during the match," Stephens said. "I'm sure my grandparents are like freaking out."
Stephens has said she had a photo of Williams up in her room when she was a child, and had long admired the Williams sisters.
"This is so crazy. Oh my goodness," Stephens said, wiping away tears in her post-match TV interview. "I think I'll put a poster of myself (up) now."
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