Serena Williams’ pride, rather than her heavily strapped right ankle, was wounded when she crashed onto the court during her three-set victory over big-hitting No.7 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday.
Williams tumbled over during the second set of a fierce fourth-round contest with Sabalenka, who is a power hitter in the Williams mould but 17 years younger.
Serena Williams falls during her clash with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Sunday but escaped injury.Credit:Getty Images
Having taken the first set 6-4, Williams would lose the second 6-2, but she picked herself up both literally and figuratively to match Sabalenka’s power game, regain control in the deciding set and advance to the quarter-finals of this year’s Open.
“It didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t roll my ankle, so that was good. Yeah, I think it was just dramatic, me being dramatic,” said Williams, who hurt her ankle at Melbourne Park two years ago and lost on the verge of a quarter-final.
“My first thought was, ‘not another ankle sprain in Australia’.
“But I knew immediately that it wasn’t. Then I was more embarrassed than anything. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I don’t like falling’. But I was fine. I mean, once I realised I didn’t twist my ankle I was like, OK, I’m good, let me just get up.”
Sabalenka delivered the 39-year-old American an almighty scare, but Williams explained that the Belarusian’s power game was nothing she hadn’t seen before.
Williams raced to a 4-1 lead in the third set as her younger opponent lost momentum.
Sabalenka did level up at 4-4 but Williams’ own strength, power, guile and all-round expertise saw her home in the clutch games to take the final set 6-4.
“I just felt like even games that I lost, I was so close to winning. Not all games, but probably most of those games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew that I could. I still hadn’t reached my peak. I was like, ‘OK Serena, you got this, just keep going’.
“I don’t know anyone that hit harder than Lindsay [Davenport], to be honest. She was the most power player I think I’ve ever played. So it was good. It was definitely a lot of power. I think, if anything, it was definitely power, but I’m used to it in practice. I know how to get them.
“I was OK with it, really. If she wants to play power, let’s go,” said Williams.
Williams, who wore a black T-shirt with “Unstoppable Queen” in capital gold letters to her post-match press conference, kept alive her chances of winning an eighth Australian Open and record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title.
Her most recent was in 2017, while she was pregnant.
Williams also paid tribute to the bond she has with sister Venus and the inspiration she gives.
“She’s really one of the only voices I hear. I don’t know if I zone out and she’s the only one I hear. I know when I hear her voice, it just makes me calm and confident … there’s something about it that just makes me feel really good.”
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