On Friday at the Australian Open, Wang delivered the biggest shock of the tournament when she took down the 23-time major champion, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5, in front of a stunned audience on Rod Laver Arena. For Williams, her quest to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors is pushed back yet again.
"It's not even about the slams, it's about just me playing good tennis, and I didn't do that today," Williamss said. "That is more disappointing. So it's not even about the win, it's just more about I'm better than that. That is what it is for me today."
Wang denied Williams four break points in the opening set, before breaking the American with a pair of winners to go up 5-4. The Chinese No. 1 maintained a steady attack, while the seven-time champion struggled to get her first serve going. Unforced errors were also a problem for Williams, as Wang did not reciprocate on her side of the court.
At 4-3 in the second set, Wang denied Serena her fifth break point, then won the rally of the match thanks to tremendous court coverage that led to a curled backhand passing shot. Williams then denied Wang’s opportunity to serve out the match with her own defensive stand, culminating with a 24-shot rally that ended with a cross-court forehand winner to level for 5-all.
Williams celebrated the point like she won the match, but again, it merely kept the contest on serve. Wang steadied in time to reach a tiebreaker—she forced Serena to save two break points in a crucial game—where Williams' defense and shotmaking were a noticeable cut above. Williams earned a 4-2 lead at the changeover with a late review, and cruised to a 7-2 victory, forcing a decider.
The two held serve over the third set's first 11 games. Serena faced a break point while serving at 3-4, but immediately put the pressure back on Wang with a gutsy hold. Wang calmly answered, as she did for much of this match, with a hold at 15.
At 5-5, Wang struck a short backhand winner—confirmed in by video review—on a pivotal 30-30 point. Of all this match's dramatic moments, it was the proverbial turning point.
Finally, serving at 5-6, Williams couldn't answer the bell. After saving two match points via some tight Wang play, she was broken in a game that saw her groundstrokes crumble, along with her title hopes.
"Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, it's all on my shoulders," Williams said. "I lost that match. So it is what it is.
"Like I said, it's not about the tournament, it's just like I can't play like that. Like, I literally can't do that again. That's unprofessional. It's not cool."
For Wang, the victory is perhaps a tribute to one of her most impactful mentors, the late Peter McNamara. The Australian, who worked with Wang for nearly four years, lost his battle with prostate cancer in July.
"Can you believe what you've done out here today?" Wang was asked by Sam Smith.
"Yes. I think my team always believed I can do it."
"After last time, I did really hard work on and off the court. During the second set, I was a little bit confused inside. My mind always told me I have to focus on the court, focus on every point and trust myself."
Asked if she would allow herself to celebrate Chinese New Year tomorrow, Wang quickly replied, "Nope!" with a laugh.
More to come.