Serena Williams took full responsibility for her mistakes after she suffered a shock third round exit at the Australian Open on Friday.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion began the tournament as the bookmakers’ favorite but her bid for an eighth triumph in Melbourne came to an abrupt halt as she lost 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5 to China’s Wang Qiang, the No. 27 seed.
Friday’s encounter was a world away from their quarterfinal meeting at the U.S. Open last year, when it had taken Williams only 44 minutes to progress to the next round after a 6-1, 6-0 thrashing.
There was no repeat of that at Melbourne Park, however. The 38-year-old was uncharacteristically sloppy in the first set, but order appeared to be restored once she won the second set after a tie-break to force the match to a third set.
However, it was not to be for the American, as Wang eventually broke her serve in the decider, much to the astonishment of the fans packed inside the Rod Laver Arena.
“[Entering the third set] I was optimistic I would be able to win,” Williams said after the match. “I thought, ‘OK, now finish this off.’ I honestly didn’t think I was going to lose that match.”
While Williams hit 43 winners to her opponent’s 25, she also compiled 56 unforced errors, while Wang had only 20.
“She served well. I didn’t return like Serena. Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match. I can’t play like that. I literally can’t do that again. It’s unprofessional. It’s not cool. So it is what it is.”
Williams has been chasing a 24th Grand Slam crown since winning in Melbourne when she was eight weeks pregnant three years ago. The American returned to tennis in 2018 after a complicated childbirth and reached the final of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in each of the last two years, losing on every occasion.
She arrived at the Australian Open in great form after winning her first WTA title since giving birth, when she clinched the Auckland Classic in New Zealand earlier this month.
Williams had not dropped a set in the first two rounds of the tournament, but her loss on Friday marks the first time since 2006 she has not made it to the second week of a Grand Slam tournament on hard court.
“I’m way too old to play like this at this stage of my career,” she explained. “Definitely going to be training tomorrow, that’s first and foremost—to make sure I don’t do this again.”
The 23-time Grand Slam winner wasn’t the only illustrious victim on Friday, as 2018 Australian Open champion and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki lost to Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the world No. 78, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
The Danish player announced before the tournament that she would retire after the Australian Open and was visibly emotional at the end of the match.