Article

Sloane seals semi spot with Serena win

23 January 2013 07:15

Five-time champion Serena Williams crashed out of the Australian Open to heiress apparent Sloane Stephens on Wednesday.

The American teenager upset her childhood idol to set up a semi-final showdown with top seed Victoria Azarenka.

The 19-year-old, anointed by Williams herself as a future world number one, slugged it out for two-and-a-half hours before emerging victorious 3-6 7-5 6-4 in the upset of the tournament.

After dropping the first set, Stephens fought back to level proceedings as Williams struggled with a back injury.

In a dramatic final set, the 15-time grand slam champion - whose condition slowly improved as the match wore on - failed to shake the determined Stephens, who claimed the biggest scalp of her short career to reach the last four of a major for the first time.

Third seed Williams looked like she would progress comfortably into the semis when she led by a set and a break.

But Stephens, playing in her maiden grand slam quarter-final, upped her game and showcased why she is one of the rising stars in women's tennis.

The youngster continued to hit freely from the back of the court as well as coming to the net at every opportunity, pressuring the title favourite into 48 unforced errors for the match.

At 4-3 down in the second set, Williams yelled in pain as she hurt her back after stopping suddenly while lunging for a drop shot.

After taking a medical timeout, she returned but was unable to serve with any power - lobbing in serves at just 150 kilometres per hour, well down on her usual 200kph.

It proved to be a turning point in the match.

Despite breaking serve immediately after returning, she ultimately surrendered the set 7-5.

Having also injured her ankle in the first round, Williams became frustrated and smashed her racquet on the court, earning a code violation.

But she regrouped and grabbed a 4-3 advantage in the deciding set as the 29th seed netted a forehand.

Stephens, who lost to the 31-year-old in Brisbane, would not go away, however, matching Williams stroke for stroke to hit back immediately before inching ahead 5-4.

Serving to stay in the match, the elder stateswoman could not conjure up some last-minute heroics as Stephens continued her giant-killing run.

Earlier, Azarenka kept her title defence on track after shrugging off a feisty challenge from Svetlana Kuznetsova in their quarter-final.

The world number one was tested early by Kuznetsova, having to fight back from 4-1 down in the first set to win 7-5 6-1 in one hour and 47 minutes.

Two-time major winner Kuznetsova, whose last appearance in the last eight of a grand slam was at the 2011 French Open, looked set to cause a boilover when she opened up the early lead with a mixture of power and precision.

But Azarenka stormed back to win six of the next seven games to clinch a marathon 77-minute opening set.

From there, she was never headed, racing through the second set in just 30 minutes.

Azarenka needs to lift the trophy on Saturday night to retain the top ranking but that possibility looked under threat as the world number 75 dominated early.

On the comeback trail after a knee injury curtailed most of her 2012 season, Kuznetsova survived a lengthy opening service game that lasted eight minutes before breaking Azarenka in the fourth game to lead 3-1.

The Belarusian had led 40-15 in that game but was taken to deuce 10 times as Kuznetsova displayed the kind of tennis that took her to the 2004 US Open and 2009 French Open titles.

Just as it seemed an upset was on the cards, Azarenka lifted her performance, cutting down on her unforced errors and running Kuznetsova all over the court.

She broke back on a Kuznetsova double-fault to get to 3-4 and then again to lead 6-5 after a scintillating forehand down the line, before serving it out.

She continued the momentum into the second set, breaking in the very first game as Kuznetsova sent a scare through her camp after rolling her ankle.

And although the Russian broke back immediately, Azarenka won the next five games in a row to seal the match.

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