By Jaclyn Stacey
(January 23, 2013) MELBOURNE PARK, Australia – 19-year-old Sloane Stephens shocked the tennis world on Wednesday at the Australian Open, defeating 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 and progressing into her first career Grand Slam semifinal.
“Today I just really didn’t have anything to lose, “ Stephens said. “I mean, you’re playing for the semis of a Grand Slam. You just got to go out and do it really.”
Williams’ 18 years of experience as a pro shone through in the opening set and a half as she got herself ahead of the younger American claiming the first set 6-3 and leading a break in the beginning of the second set.
Being down 0-2 in the second set Stephens picked up her game and really took it to her mentor.
“I think I was convinced that I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set and I went down 2-0. And 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 okay.”
“From then on I got aggressive, started coming to the net more, and just got a lot more comfortable. I just kind of just kind of played my game from there, I think.”
Stephens got a break on Williams and attempted to serve out the set leading 5-3. At the same time her opponent down the other end was moving around the court in pain from a back spasm.
Williams explained the moment she felt the injury take place.
“Well, I was running to the net for a dropshot. As I went to hit it, it was on the backhand. I even screamed on the court. I was like, Ahh. I totally locked up after that. It was just like — it was a little painful.”
The five-time Australian Open champion managed to ignore the pain and break Stephens back by taking advantage of the nerves of the young American who double-faulted to go break-point down during the game. Williams held for 5-all but was again broken by Stephens in the next game as she struggled to serve without pain. Stephens then capitalized on her second opportunity to serve out the set 7-5 and took the match into a decider.
Williams left the court for medical treatment on her back at the break and came back serving balls at just 89mph, a whopping 39.7mph slower than her fastest recorded speed at the tournament of 128.7mph.
“Yeah, I mean, she was serving at lower speeds, but her serve, she hits spots. No matter how slow it’s going, it’s right on the line. It’s still a really good serve even though it’s much slower,” Stephens said of the slowed down balls coming her way.
The women held serve to start a very tense third set, both women hitting with impressive power and putting their all into the fight.
At the first change of ends a frustrated Williams smashed her racquet into the ground but remained quiet. The last two weeks had been tough on her body as she battled through an ankle injury in her first round match and then the back injury.
Williams got a break in the seventh game of the final set to take a 4-3 lead but was immediately broken back by Stephens to level at 4-4. From there she held and broke Williams again to claim her space in the semifinals.
It was a momentous win for the young American who defeated her childhood hero on tennis’ biggest stage at a Grand Slam. When asked about the poster of Williams she kept on her wall as a child she said through tears, “This is so crazy but – oh my goodness – I think I want a poster of myself now.”
Stephens plays world number one and defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals and says she will give it her all.
“Gonna be a totally different match. I’m just going to go out and play my best, obviously. Do what I do really well and just play my game. Just hopefully, you know, play well again.”