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By Chris Oddo

(January 23, 2013) -- While Sloane Stephens was finding out that luck is where preparation meets opportunity during yesterday’s shocking three-set quarterfinal win, Serena Williams was finding out that rage is where a sprained ankle meets a bad back meets another unforced error.

It was a bad day on all counts for Serena Williams. She saw her dreams of a sixth Australian Open title, a career-best unbeaten streak and perhaps the No. 1 ranking all go up in smoke, and it’s understandable that she let it all out in the form of this quick but efficient frame bashing.

On-court microphones picked up Williams saying that this has been the worst two weeks, and she elaborated on that sentiment with reporters after the match.

“Oh my gosh, I’m almost relieved that it’s over because there’s only so much I felt I could do,” she said. “I was unaware the microphones picked that up, but oh my gosh, it’s been difficult.”

After turning her ankle in her first-round victory, Williams played the rest of the tournament heavily taped. Just as it appeared that the injury would be a non-factor in the business end of the Australian Open, she tweaked it in her doubles quarterfinal against Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani, raising concerns again.

But nobody expected or knew that Serena’s back had flared up during the course of the event. It ended up being the straw that would break the camel’s back.

“A few days ago it just got really tight and I had no rotation on it,” Serena said. “I went for this dropshot in the second set and it just locked up on me. My legs were fine, so running was fine, just rotating was a little tough.”

Williams, not wanting to downplay her opponent’s gargantuan victory, did not want to use it as an excuse. “It’s fine,” she said. “I think everyone in the locker room at this stage has something wrong with them.”

She said she thought about retiring from the match for a “nanosecond,” but then put it out of her mind.

Before the tournament most pundits agreed that injuries were probably the only thing that could get between Serena and winning her third consecutive Grand Slam. Maybe, many thought, she could run the table and win all the Grand Slams. Now that health issues have marred the 31-year-old's chances, all eyes will be on Serena’s health going forward.

She looked to be an invincible juggernaut, on pace to become the oldest No. 1-ranked player in WTA history, before the quarterfinals. One difficult match -- and vicious racquet smash -- later, her age appears to be taking its toll.


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