Serena Williams has crashed out of the Australian Open at the quarter-final stage after a shock defeat by Czech player Karolina Pliskova. The Daily Mail reports that she missed four match points in Melbourne as she managed to throw away a 5-1 advantage in the deciding set to lose 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
Serena had a shaky start to the match, going 3-1 down in the opening set. She made a recovery of sorts but failed to earn a single break point and made 11 unforced errors as a resolute performance from Pliskova saw her prevail 6-4.
It was a similar story at the start of the second set, too, as Pliskova broke again to lead 4-2. But as so often before, Serena dug deep when it mattered and managed to turn things around, winning four successive games to clinch the set 6-4.
In the decider, it looked as Pliskova's battle was fought. Serena carried all the momentum and surged into a 5-1 lead. But then disaster struck. In returning a ball, Williams appeared to hurt her ankle and the injury seriously affected her performance.
She had four match points in the next game but was unable to take any of them as it began to affect her.
"It has been a big shift," said commentator Jelena Dokic. "She hasn't been able to push up for the serve. Also hasn't been able to move as well. She has grimaced a couple of times and even limped after a couple of shots in that last game as well. It's definitely affecting her."
Sensing an opportunity, Pliskova upped her game and an injury-prone Serena had no response. The Czech World No.8 rattled off six successive games to clinch the deciding set and the match 7-5.
Serena left the court with a limp and was visibly upset. However, in her post-match interviews, she denied that the injury had affected her and also refuted suggestions the pressure had got to her as well.
"[I] did not choke," she said afterward. "I think she just played lights out on match points... She was hitting lines and went crazy. She played unbelievable on match points."
"It was nothing to do with my ankle," she continued. "Obviously I made some mistakes but she played really well."
For her part, Pliskova was elated at her victory.
"It was tough because she was really playing well," she said of Serena's performance. "I didn't have many chances in the third set and I was too passive, mentally down. I said let's try this game 5-2, maybe I will have a couple of chances. She did get a little bit shaky in the end. So I took my chances and I won."
Pliskova will now face U.S. Open Champion Naomi Osaka in the semi-final.