Sloane Stephens stunned childhood idol Serena Williams to reach the Australian Open semi-finals.
But Williams failed to put on her best show on the court, both because of injury, and a temper tantrum that saw her slam her racket into the ground with considerable force.
The battered racket was then sent flying into the bench with some pace, and Williams was given a code violation.
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Stephens had a picture of Williams on her bedroom wall growing up and she joked in the post-match interview: ‘I will have to put up a poster of myself now!’
Third seed Williams looked set to make routine progress through to the last four when she led by a set and a break, but Stephens had other ideas.
Starting to display the kind of form which carried her to her maiden grand slam quarter-final, she
was hitting freely from the back of the court and made several moves forward to finish points off at the net.
It was turning into a real contest between the experienced Williams and the 19-year-old, understandably tipped as her heiress apparent in American tennis.
But then the match took another turn as Williams sustained a back spasm in lunging for a low ball at the net.
The teenager broke for a 5-3 second-set lead and although she could not immediately serve it out – Williams, after taking a medical time-out, bravely hitting back to level it at 5-5 – Stephens regrouped following a bout of jitters to break again and take it to a decider.
Williams’ frustration boiled over after three games of the final set, earning herself a code violation for whacking her racket into the court.
But she could console herself with the fact her back appeared to be loosening up, perhaps as a result of the medication prescribed earlier starting to kick in.
Pain game: Williams receives treatment from the physio for her back injury
Williams broke for a 4-3 lead but Stephens was not going away and she hit straight back before edging 5-4 up.
And this time it was Williams who buckled as a series of tired groundstrokes gifted Stephens the win of her life.
After the match Williams indicated that she wasn’t entirely heartbroken by the loss.
‘I’m almost relieved it’s over because there’s only so much I felt I could do,’ she said. ‘It has been difficult. I have been thrown a lot of balls this week.’
Stephens will now meet world No 1 Victoria Azarenka, who earlier beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1.
‘It should be fun,’ she said.’I am in the semis of a grand slam so I will give it my all and do the same thing again.’
She’s not known for being the calmest in the face of strain, and yesterday was far from being the worst of the American’s reactions.
It was back in 2009 that Williams lost her US Open match against Kim Clijsters because of an outburst at a line-judge who called a foot fault. The call gave Clijsters two match points against Williams, and the latter was far from impressed.
It’s never been made clear exactly what Williams said to the judge, though it allegedly involved a ball and the line judge’s throat. The racket brandishing alone was enough to cause tension, and when the umpire called the tournament referee on to the court a point was docked from Williams, handing Clijsters a free pass to the final.
Two years later there was more controversy after another rant at the umpire during her final against Sam Stosur.
When Williams managed to nail a forehand into the far corner of the court she shouted ‘Come on!’ but unfortunately let her triumph get the better of her and shouted before the ball was out of play.
The umpire gave Stosur the point, prompting Williams to launch a tirade against her.
‘Aren’t you the one who screwed me over here last time?’ she asked.
‘I truly despise you.’
‘If you ever see me walking down the hall look the other way.’
‘You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside. And I never complain. Wow, what a loser.’
Williams was in fact wrong – it was a different umpire to the one who had made a call against her the previous year. And the ruling made was the right one according to the rule book. Stosur went on to win the match and the tournament 6-2, 6-3.