A pair of former champions crashed out in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday, with Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka both making early and unexpected exits.
Wang Qiang ended the run of an error-ridden Serena Williams 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5, with China’s top player refusing to distract herself with New Year celebrations on Saturday as she prepares for her next challenge.
“No” was the succinct answer from the No. 27, whose victory ended any attempt for Williams to pull level on the record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles when asked if she would be celebrating the Chinese holiday. “I’ll take a rest and just prepare for the next match.”
Teenaged talent Coco Gauff left holder Osaka fuming in a 6-3, 6-4 beatdown which took just 67 minutes and reversed the result of their match just four months ago at the US Open.
Williams, 38, last won a major when she lifted the trophy here in 2017; she came to Melbourne with a title at the Auckland tune-up event this month and has . She not gone out this early here since 2006.
Victory was major revenge for Chinese No. 1 Wang, who managed just one game at a US Open quarter-final in September as Williams crushed her in 45 minutes.
“My team always believed I could do it (beat Williams),” Wang, formerly coached by late Aussie Peter McNamara, said.
“After the last loss, we worked hard on court and off. It was really good work; this is unbelievable.”
Wang led a set and 5-3 as Williams struggled to contain an unforced error count which eventually hit 56. Wang reached the fourth round and a date with Ons Jabeur, who earlier sent Caroline Wozniack into tennis retirement 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
But Williams started to lay on a comeback, sending the second into a tiebreaker and hanging tough in the deciding third before Wang finally broke for victory on a third match point.
“I was a little confused in the second set, the Chinese winner said. “My mind told me to be calm.
” I had to concentrate on every point and trust myself.”
Williams said she had no one to blame but herself.
“I made far too many errors to be a professional athlete today,” she said. “It’s all on my shoulders – I lost that match.
“I cannot play like that, it’s unprofessional and not cool.
“I’m way too old to play like this at this stage of my career, there can be no excuse to be honest.
“I will be training tomorrow to make sure I don’t do this again.”
Australian top seed Ash Barty rolled into the fourth round 6-3, 6-3 over Elena Rybakina.
“Today was probably the sharpest match that I’ve played. I felt really comfortable moving around the court. I
“I found the middle of the racquet a lot sooner than my other matches. It was a pretty well-rounded performance.”
Gauff, still in school via online courses, seemed more impressed with the chance to meet Aussie icon Rod Laver – for whom the stadium is named – than with her knockout of Osaka.
“I’m playing in Rod Laver arena, I can’t believe it,” she said, adding that while she has passed the legend in the halls backstage she did not have the nerve to introduce herself.
Gauff confessed that she would love to get a selfie with the Queenslander.
Gauff, making her main draw debut in Melbourne, took the opening set and then broke for 4-3 in the second as Osaka slammed a backhand into the net.
The teenager followed up with a love game as the situation got desperate for the seed; she finished off the Japanese player within a few minutes.
“I don’t know where this came from,” Gauff said in victory. “Two years ago I lost here in the first round of juniors – this is crazy.
“I told myself to play just one point at a time and keep fighting, you never know what can happen on court.”
Seventh seed Petra Kvitova maintained a clean slate with another straight-sets win, beating Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-1, 6-2 with a mere 10 unforced errors and 18 winners.
“It’s been a year since the final last year,” the 2019 runner-up to Osaka said. “So far I’m feeling good.
“That’s important. It was really important for me get back on my game, as today I showed.”
Kvitova will next play for the quarter-final against Greek Maria Sakkari, who defeated Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4.