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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, January 24, 2020

 
Serena Williams

Wang Qiang stunned Serena Wiliams 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 advancing to the Australian Open fourth round for the first time—and denying Serena's quest to claim her 24th Grand Slam crown.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Steamrolled by Serena Williams in New York, Wang Qiang soared in their Melbourne rematch.

A fearless Wang shocked Williams 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 advancing to the Australian Open fourth round for the first time—and denying Serena's quest to claim her 24th Grand Slam crown and match Margaret Court's all-time major record in Melbourne.

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The 28-year-old Chinese beat Williams to the ball, defended her serve with stubborn vigor and spread the court with sharp angles in a masterful performance.

Competing with calm clarity, Wang converted her third match point on a Williams backhand error to prevail in a physical two hour, 41-minute battle.




"'I'm really happy now, still happy," said Wang, who committed just 20 unforced errors. "I always believe I can do this one day. But I don't know which day, but is coming today. I really happy to see it happens. I did really hard work in off-season, so is [paying off.]"

It was a frustrating performance for Williams, who fought back from a one-set, 3-5 hole, but scattered 56 unforced errors and converted only one of six break points. It all added up to the 38-year-old American's earliest AO exit in 14 years.

"I was optimistic I would be able to win," Williams said afterward. "I thought, okay, now finish this off. I honestly didn't think I was going to lose that match."

This match is a testament to tennis' restorative power.

It came five months after a ruthless Williams annihilated Wang 6-1, 6-0 in the US Open quarterfinals permitting just 15 points in a 44-minute beat down. Wang did not manage a single winner in that match.

Humbled in New York, Wang was hungry for another shot at Williams and flipped the script by trusting herself and the depth of her drives in critical stages. 

"During the second set I was a little bit confused because I lost the second set," Wang told Sam Smith afterward. "I have to be calm. My mind always tells me to focus on every point and trust myself."




In the space of an hour, the women's draw was rocked by a seismic shift.

Shortly after Ons Jabeur out-dueled Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 sending the 2018 champion to a tearful farewell in her final pro match, Wang stared down the sport's fearsome server—and her own fears.

After squandering a one-set, 5-3 lead, Wang regrouped and outplayed the former world No. 1 for much of the final set. 

It's a jolting loss for Williams,who arrived in Melbourne fresh off her 73rd career title in Auckland poised to make history at the site of her last Grand Slam crown in 2017.

Surprisingly, Williams didn't dial up the velocity on her vaunted serve until late in the second set and struggled through tougher service games in the decider. Wang isn't a big server, but Williams couldn't gain traction on return and looked exasperated and off-balance at times.

"Yeah, she served well. I didn't return like Serena," Williams said. "Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, it's all on my shoulders. I lost that match. So it is what it is.

"Like I said, it's not about the tournament, it's just like I can't play like that. Like, I literally can't do that again. That's unprofessional. It's not cool."

While we can reassess everything from Williams schedule following her US Open final loss to Bianca Andreescu last September to the fact she wasn't as consistently as quick off the mark in this tournament to her shot selection under pressure today, Wang deserves her due for resetting after failing to serve out the match at 5-3 of the second set.

Coach Patrick Mouratoglou stood in the support box exhorting Williams, but Wang was in tune with the shot-making muse spinning a forehand down the line breaking for a 3-2 second-set lead.

Trying to strong-arm her way through points, Williams was hitting down the middle too often and getting beaten by Wang's counter-strikes in extended exchanges. The 2017 champion tried spreading the court with the backhand cross to set up her two-hander down the line, but she was sailing that shot as Wang worked through confirmation hold.

Eighty-two minutes into the match, Williams earned a break point, but slapped an off-balance forehand into net.

Shrugging off stress, Wang jammed a ball right back into Williams' body, repelled a sharp angle and wrong-footed the seven-time champion banging a backhand crosscourt as she held for 5-3.

Stepping up to serve for a monumental win, Wang was points away from a dizzying upset and Williams was still looking for her first break of the day.

An electric 24-shot rally saw both women amp up the pace of heavy strikes until Williams stepped up and slashed a forehand crosscourt scoring her first break for 5-all after an hour and 32 minutes thrusting her arms toward the sky.



Down double break point in the ensuing game, Williams drilled her first ace of the set to deny the second break point. That serve helped her hold for 6-5.

A backhand crashed into tape and crawled over as Williams went up 2-1 in the tie break. That bit of fortune fired Williams up as she ran through the final four points to take the tie break and force a final set. 

Once the most convincing closer in the sport, Williams was playing catch-up throughout the final set.

Shrewd shot selection and toughness on pressure points helped Wang, whose long-time former coach, Peter McNamara, passed away in July after battling prostate cancer, sustain her lead. 

The slender Wang backed up her serve better in the decider winning 21 of 25 first-serve points without facing a break point. Wang stretched Williams on the backhand to earn her ninth break point. Williams erased it with a power combination extending the drama at 4-all.

Tennis Express

Serving at 5-6, Williams sent a lunging backhand sailing to face double match point. She denied both but on this day there was no great escape.

Hitting off her back foot Williams dragged a forehand wide to face a third match point splattering a netted backhand to end it.  

 

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