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Stephens Upsets Williams, Faces Azarenka in AO Semis

19-year-old Sloane Stephens ousted Serena Williams in a dramatic three-set battle. Stephens will next face top seed Victoria Azarenka in the AO semis.

By Erik Gudris

Sloane Stephens Australian Open (January 22nd, 2012) -- Sloane Stephens may only be 19, but she proved she belongs on the biggest stages of the sport as she defeated heavy pre-event favorite Serena Williams in a dramatic women's quarterfinal at the Australian Open.

Both women held serve with ease through the opening games of the first set until at 4-3, Williams broke Stephens with some heavy returns. Williams closed out the set 6-3 and after she went up 2-0 in the second set, it looked liked yet another routine win for the 15-time Major champion.

However, Stephens didn't go away and matched Williams's power with her own steady defense as she ran down ball after ball. Midway through the set, Williams suffered a back spasm when bending low for a close ball up at the net and was clearly in pain as she dropped serve at 3-5.

But Stephens, unnerved by the chain of events, couldn't close out the next game allowing Williams to break her serve. Williams called for a medical time out and went off court to have her back treated. When she returned, Williams held serve for 5-all and came within a few points of breaking Stephens. Instead it was Stephens who held serve and then broke Williams  to take the set 7-5.

With Williams appearing to feel better after her treatment, the velocity of her serve returned at the early stages of the final set. After an anguished Williams held serve for 3-all, she broke Stephens on her fourth break point opportunity for a 4-3 lead.

Stephens refused to wilt though as she broke straight back and then held for 5-4. The young American continued pressuring Williams in the rallies and soon she found herself with two match points at 15-40. Stephens took advantage and closed out the tumultuous battle 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to reach her first ever Major semifinal.

Afterwards, Williams said that her back issue had first come up in her doubles match the other day but she didn't cite as a reason for the loss. Williams, who still has a chance at the No. 1 ranking, reflected that being on top of the rankings is not her main goal. "For me I'm trying to win Grand Slams and win titles. Number one is awesome if I get it. Like I said, I think I'll get it one day. If not I've had it so it is what it is."

A still stunned Stephens in her press conference said she believed she could win. "This morning when I got up, I told myself, dude you can do this. Like go out and play and do your best."

Azarenka Powers Past Kuznetsova into Semis

Earlier, No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka took on the unseeded two-time Grand Slam champion Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in a quarterfinal that had the makings of a long battle especially after it took Kuznetsova over eight minutes just to hold serve in the opening game. The Russian secured an early break for 2-1 and then proceeded to unveil her full compliment of shotmaking ability including forehand slices, drop shots and groundstrokes hit to the short corners of the court.

The Russian's variety frustrated Azarenka and allowed Kuznetsova to open up a 4-1 lead. But Azarenka kept her cool and with some clutch serving of her own managed to pull even for 4-all. Kuznetsova came within two points of the set at 30-all, 5-4 on Azarenka's serve, but it was Azarenka who pushed ahead and took the set 7-5.

Kuznetsova started the second set with a slight foot wobble that suggested she had injured herself. The Russian kept on playing but after several breaks of serve from both women, it was Azarenka who moved out to a 3-1 lead. Kuznetsova looked slightly weary towards the end of the match while Azarenka put on the afterburners. A final error from the Russian, her 43rd of the afternoon, gave Azarenka a 7-5, 6-1 win to send her into the semifinals.

Tomorrow's semifinals will feature Azarenka versus Stephens in a first time meeting along with Li Na against Maria Sharapova in their 13th career meeting.
(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve)


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