Serena Williams was only thinking out loud when she muttered that this Australian Open had been “the worst two weeks.”
Not long after a courtside microphone picked up those comments during her quarter-final with 19-year-old Sloane Stephens of the US, things got a whole lot worse.
Stephens outplayed Williams, whose movement and serves had been slowed by a back injury, and beat the 15-time Grand Slam champion 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
It was Williams’ first loss since Aug. 17 and her first defeat at a Grand Slam tournament since last year’s French Open.
Four-time Australian Open winner Roger Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, looked for a while like he might join Williams on the sidelines, but he eked out a 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-2 win over 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a match that lasted 3 hours, 34 minutes.
Federer, who broke Tsonga in the fourth game of the deciding set, converted his fifth match point while serving after Tsonga saved four in the previous game.
Federer, who advanced to the semi-finals for the 10th consecutive year at Melbourne Park, plays US Open champion Andy Murray tomorrow.
Murray advanced earlier yesterday with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jeremy Chardy.
The other men’s semi-final sees defending champion Novak Djokovic playing David Ferrer today.
Williams’ downer of a Grand Slam started badly when she turned her right ankle in her opening match at Melbourne Park.
While Williams packed for home — she and sister Venus have also lost in the doubles — Stephens advanced to a semi-final against defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
Top seed Azarenka beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1 in the early quarter-final at Rod Laver Arena.
Maria Sharapova, who has lost only nine games in five matches, plays Li Na in the other semi-final today.
Williams hurt her back in the eighth game of the second set and things got progressively worse. She yelled at herself on several occasions and smashed a racket into the court, earning a US$1,500 fine from tournament officials.
She reiterated after the match that her injuries had made this Australian Open difficult for her.
“Absolutely, I’m almost relieved that it’s over because there’s only so much I felt I could do,” she said. “I’ve been thrown a lot of [curve] balls these two weeks.”
Stephens has been, too, but has coped well and the magnitude of her accomplishment only hit her while she was warming down after the match.
“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,’” Stephens said. “To be in the semis of a Grand Slam is definitely a good accomplishment. A lot of hard work.”
The No. 29 seed had not been given much of a chance of beating Williams, who lost only four matches last year and was in contention to regain the world No. 1 ranking at the age of 31.
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.
Stephens has said she had a photograph of Williams in her room when she was a child and had long admired the Williams sisters.
Azarenka, with her most famous fan sitting in the crowd wearing a shirt reminding her to keep calm, overcame some early jitters to beat Kuznetsova.
After dropping serve in a long fourth game that went to deuce 10 times, Azarenka recovered to dominate the rest of the match against Kuznetsova, a two-time major winner who was floating dangerously in the draw with a No. 75 ranking as she recovers from a knee injury.