Ivanovic serves up Serena stunner
MELBOURNE, Australia -- A sore back, which Serena Williams said "almost" caused her to pull out of her match two days earlier, rendered the five-time champion just mortal enough in her fourth-round match at the Australian Open on Sunday for opportunistic No. 14 seed Ana Ivanovic to upset the top-ranked player in the world 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
"I made a tremendous amount of errors, shots I normally don't miss and haven't missed since the '80s," said Williams, who practiced for just five minutes after her third-round victory against Daniela Hantuchova in 100-plus degree temperatures two days ago and not at all Saturday.
"I'm not used to missing those shots. She made some good shots, and I made way, way too many unforced errors [31 to 27 by Ivanovic, 17 on Williams' backhand]."
The 32-year-old also had early exits the past two years, losing in the fourth round in 2012 and the quarterfinals last year, both times hampered by ankle problems. But she refused to blame bad Australian vibes and instead said knowing she was not at 100 percent physically makes her more motivated.
"I know for a fact I can play so much better than what I did today, so knowing that, I'm not disappointed or anything," Williams said. "I just know that I can play 10 times better than what I did today."
The victory for Ivanovic, 26, ranked No. 1 in the world for 12 weeks in 2008, was another illustration of just how impressive Williams' previous accomplishments have been -- her 25-match winning streak going into Sunday, her record 61 wins here, her 17 Grand Slam titles overall.
As seemingly invulnerable as Williams appears, it is obviously not easy, and Grand Slam titles -- or even fourth-round victories -- are far from automatic.
Ivanovic had never won a set against Williams in four previous matches between the two and had never beaten a top-25 player in a Grand Slam outside of the French Open.
But the 2008 French Open champion was masterful returning Williams' serve, boldly planting herself inside the baseline on both first and second serves (also winning 82 percent of her own second serves in the final set to 41 percent for Williams). Ivanovic was particularly impressive on the forehand side, though when Williams began trying to attack Ivanovic's backhand, she proved unflappable from that side as well.
Ivanovic had 91 winners for the match (79 by Williams) and 20 from the forehand side (two by Williams). She broke early in both the first and second sets, reeled off 16 of 21 points at one stage early in the final set and had 14 break-point opportunities to only three for Williams. Though Ivanovic converted only four, it would prove to be enough.
"It wasn't the best, but, you know, it was all Ana today," Williams said. "I thought she played really well."
Ivanovic, who now has reached her second Australian Open quarterfinal (runner-up in 2008), had been playing great tennis and was coming off another come-from-behind victory with her three-set, third-round win against Australia's Samantha Stosur.
"I actually believed and had some confidence," Ivanovic said of Sunday's match. "I did certain things extremely well, and I kept her under pressure, I felt, through the whole match.
"I just stayed in the moment. I didn't think of the occasion or who I was playing because it can get overwhelming. I just stuck to my things, and it paid off."
She admitted it was not always easy.
"I just kept swinging," Ivanovic said. "Even when I made errors, I really believed in it. So to have that victory, it's amazing. We all know what kind of champion she is. When we were starting the match and they were talking about all her Grand Slam titles, it was quite impressive."
The only person happier with Williams' loss than Ivanovic might be No. 4 seed Li Na, who defeated Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-0 and was anticipating a semifinal matchup with Williams.
Instead, Li, who will meet No. 28 Flavia Pennetta in one quarterfinal, could meet the winner between Ivanovic and No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals.
For Ivanovic, who dropped out of the top 20 in October 2009 for the first time since the summer of 2006 and dropped as low as No. 65 in the summer of 2010, the ups and downs have been worth the journey.
"I think all the struggles were just for moments like this," she said. "You work hard, and you never know what's going to happen. I just really enjoy competing.
"I'm not afraid going deep against these top players. I feel ready, and I want to challenge everyone out there. I know there are going to be a lot of tough matches. It might not be quarterfinal, might be maybe second round, third round, but you always get tough matches. I'm ready for the battle, and hopefully I can show this game all the way."
Williams said her back has been bothering her for "a few days" and would benefit from a few more days off, something she does not normally have the luxury of during a Grand Slam tournament. She pulled out of doubles with partner Venus Williams two days ago, citing a leg injury to Venus.
Serena Williams said she should not have played Sunday.
Williams was off balance on her backhand, converting only five winners off groundstrokes compared to 23 by Ivanovic. Williams seemed a step slow, was less than her usual aggressive self and was quieter -- until the final few games of the match -- than usual.
"I obviously wasn't hitting the way I normally hit or moving the way I normally move and making errors I don't normally make and haven't made in a couple years," Williams said.
Despite nearly pulling out of the tournament before the Hantuchova match, Williams repeated that she did not want to make excuses.
"Again, I don't want to blame anything," she said. "I feel like Ana deserves all the credit. I feel she played unbelievable today. I think she went for her shots.
"It's not like I gave her the match. I tried to fight the best I could today. Yeah, I almost didn't play. But, hey, I did, and at least I feel good that I tried the best that I could on this day."