A smashed racquet, a back injury and a three-set loss were the final scenes of Serena Williams’ “worst ever two weeks” at a Grand Slam tournament.
“Oh, my gosh, I'm almost relieved that it's over because there's only so much I felt I could do,” Williams told a packed press conference after her 3-6 7-5 6-4 shock loss to 29th-seeded American Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals.
“But, oh my gosh, it's been a little difficult. I've been thrown a lot of balls these two weeks.”
Williams was referring to the ankle injury she sustained in the first round, a self-inflicted racquet to the face in the second round and then the back complaint that first flared “a few days ago” but became a liability during Friday’s quarterfinal.
“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. But, I mean, it's OK. It was what it was.”
Still taking anti-inflammatory tablets for the ankle issue, Williams believes her back complaint may have stemmed from over-compensating for that initial problem.
And as her frustration grew it came to a head when she destroyed a racquet and hurled it to the ground as Stephens sat quietly just a few metres away.
“Oh, yeah. Did you see it?” smiled Williams. “I even had a wry smile on my lips after that. It made me happy, unfortunately.”
Injuries aside, it ends Williams’ run of 21 straight victories and is her first loss since August 2012 and, according to the third seed, her worst match for a long time.
“I don't think my level was high. I don't know how many unforced errors I ended up hitting, but for sure more in one set than I probably did in the whole tournament.
“So I think her level was high. But as for my end, I mean, you can tell. You each can say this is definitely not my best match in months.”
For the record, Williams struck 48 unforced errors to her opponent’s 39. Considering Williams hadn’t hit more than 25 in any of her previous matches in Melbourne, then statistically this was easily her worst performance.
In saying that, Williams had some praise for Stephens.
“I think my opponent played well and was able to do a really good job,” she said.
“She's a good player. She run fast and she gets a lot of balls back. That's always a plus to have in your career.”
But the big story was Serena. As normal, the holder of 15 Grand Slam titles saved some of her best work for the press room. Despite the loss, she did manage to smile and even laugh when she misunderstood a question about whether or not she considered retiring.
“Doug, are you kidding me? I'm not retiring. Oh, you mean, retiring in the match (laughter). Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you meant my career. Like, you're crazy.”
So while Serena’s Australian Open may be over for 2013, it’s good to know that she’s not ready to roll the closing credits on her career just yet.