MELBOURNE: Serena Williams’s bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title was brought to a halt in sensational style at the Australian Open Wednesday by Karolina Plíšková, as Lucas Pouille reached his first ever major semi-final.
The American great had beaten world number one Simona Halep in the fourth round but folded against the tall Czech seventh seed, who saved four match points before winning 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 under the hot Melbourne sun. Her reward is a clash against Japan’s Naomi Osaka for a place in the final after the Japanese fourth seed brutally swatted aside the injured Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-1. Pouille also made the last four after beating power-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, becoming the first Frenchman to do so at Melbourne Park since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2010. Awaiting him is the winner of the night match on Rod Laver Arena between world number one Novak Djokovic and Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
It was a gut-wrenching defeat for Williams, who battled back from a set down and was leading 5-1 in the third and serving for the match, only to throw it away with some wild shots as frustrations bubbled to the surface. “There’s nothing I did wrong on those match points. I stayed aggressive. She just literally hit the lines on some of them,” said the dumbfounded 37-year-old, who rolled an ankle but refused to blame it for the defeat. Since returning last year from giving birth, Williams has made four unsuccessful attempts to match Margaret Court’s long-time standing 24 Grand Slam titles, and the wait continues with the French Open in May her next chance. “The big picture for me is always winning,” she added. “I’m not going to sit here and lie about that. It hasn’t happened yet, but I feel like it’s going to happen.”