Australian Open: Serena Williams makes shock exit

Serena Williams

American teenager Sloane Stephens blew the Australian Open women's draw apart today when she sent injury-hit hot favourite Serena Williams crashing out in the quarter-finals.

Stephens, only 19 and without a tournament victory, held her nerve in unbearable tension at Rod Laver Arena to close out a 3-6 7-5 6-4 win after Williams needed treatment for back spasms.

"This is so crazy," said Stephens, who used to have a poster of Williams on her bedroom wall. "I think I'll put a poster of myself up now."

Stephens, 19, regarded as Williams' successor as the force of women's tennis in the United States, now goes into a semi-final against world number one and defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who beat Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Williams, 31, had not been beaten since August and picked up titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open last year, but she now sees her bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam fall at the first hurdle.

She also falls one short match of equalling her best-ever winning streak of 21 matches, and is denied the chance to become the oldest world number one since the rankings were first devised in 1975.

But she said she was "almost relieved" her tournament was over after rolling her ankle just minutes into her first match in Melbourne, a problem which she believes had the knock-on effect of straining her back.

"Absolutely," she said, when asked if it was the worst time she had had at a Grand Slam.

Williams won the first set but at 3-4 in the second, she pulled up with back spasms and later called for the trainer. Serving at half-pace, Stephens was eventually able to capitalise as she levelled at a set each.

Williams recovered sufficiently to break in the tense decider but Stephens broke back and then broke again to claim the victory of her life.

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