Australian Open: Makarova d. Williams

by: TENNIS.com | January 22, 2012

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TENNIS.com

201201222308833135389-p2@stats_comSerena Williams raced up to the net for a sitter shot, and with a wide open expanse of blue court in front of her and an afternoon full of frustration behind her, she guided a forehand down the line. Ekaterina Makarova was waiting.

The 56th-ranked Russian ripped a forehand pass crosscourt that left Williams lunging at air and gave her game point for a 5-3 second-set lead. That shot summed up a day of futility for the five-time champion—even when Williams took the offensive, Makarova was often one step ahead and one shot better.

On a scorching day, Makarova repeatedly ravaged Williams with drives down the line and shocked the erratic American, 6-2, 6-3, to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The left-hander snapped Williams' 17-match Melbourne winning streak in handing the 12th-seeded American her first Australian Open loss since the 2008 quarterfinals, and one of the most lopsided losses of her Grand Slam career.

The player who possesses what John McEnroe calls "the best serve in women's tennis history" had held serve in 23 of her prior 24 service games this tournament. None of that mattered much to Makarova, who showed sheer disdain for Serena's serve, stepping inside the baseline to snap off angled returns. Makarova broke five times and pounded Williams' second serve as if it were a pinata, winning 20 of 29 such points.

Williams, who suffered a sprained left ankle in the Brisbane quarterfinals, wasn't sharp with her footwork, sometimes hitting her forehand off her back foot, and lacked her familiar explosive first step. She never really found her range or rhythm in scattering 37 unforced errors, including seven double faults, compared to 17 for Makarova, who broke for a 3-2 first-set lead and then consolidated at love on the strength of successive bold backhands down the line. It got so bad for Serena at some points that she was guiding rather than hitting through her shots.

Serena, who had been muted for much of the match, began grunting and exhorting herself, but wasn't moving her feet. She lost nine straight points in one stretch as Makarova broke again for a 5-2 lead.

The pivotal point of the match came in the eighth game as Williams fought off five set points. In the ensuing exchange—a sensational corner-to-corner rally—Makarova drew Williams to net with a drop shot. Williams could have buried the ball just about anywhere, but she tried to drive it down the line and Makarova guessed right, stabbing a slick forehand volley winner. She blasted a backhand winner on her sixth set point to seize the opener in which Serena served 46 percent.

Rod Laver Arena has been the site of so many Serena comebacks over the years, so when she broke at love for a 2-0 second-set lead, she seemed intent on summoning yet another rally. But there would be no Lazarus-like revival today. Makarova won six of the final seven games, sealing her greatest win when Williams steered a backhand wide.

Richard Pagliaro

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