Serena Williams has suffered her earliest exit from the Australian Open in 14 years, falling to a shock defeat to China’s Wang Qiang in the third round.
The American’s bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title ended with a 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 7-5 defeat to Wang.
When they met at the US Open last summer, Wang won just one game and only 15 points, but it was a different story in Melbourne as the 27th seed claimed the win of her life as well as leaving Williams’ dreams in tatters.
Williams won her first tournament in three years in Auckland earlier this month and arrived in Melbourne with a determined intensity that seemed to indicate she was ready to put four recent grand slam final losses behind her.
Williams was highly critical of her own performance, saying: “I was optimistic I would be able to win. I thought, ‘OK now finish this off’. I honestly didn’t think I was going to lose that match.
“I just made far too many errors to be a professional athlete today.
“If we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match. It’s not about the tournament, it’s just like I can’t play like that. I literally can’t do that again. That’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.”
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The 38-year-old’s emotions were clearly visible during the match at the Rod Laver Arena, showing just how much she wanted to win.
A shot striking the top of the net and dropping over resulted in the American roaring and clenching her fist, the customary apology nowhere to be seen.
Williams has declared that her attempt to equal Margaret Court’s record for winning major titles will go on.
The athlete returned to the tour in 2018 after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr on 1 September 2017.
She has reached four Grand Slam finals since but failed to win any, with her recent US Open defeat to Canadian Bianca Andreescu playing out in front of a partisan crowd in New York.
Asked if she could believe what she had done, Wang replied simply: “Yes.”
“I think my team always believed I can do,” she added. “After last time I did really hard work on court and off the court.
“During the second set I was a bit confused. I had to be calm. My mind always told me I had to focus on every point and trust myself.”