MELBOURNE, Australia - Only teenager in the Top 50, first Grand Slam quarterfinal, no Top 10 wins yet, 15-time Grand Slam champion and former World No.1 across the net - and she came through. Sloane Stephens had a career-defining moment at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, outlasting Serena Williams in a dramatic quarterfinal match in front of a stunned Rod Laver Arena crowd, 36 75 64.
Having won the last 20 matches - and the last 27 sets - she had played, the No.3-seeded Williams looked like she was going to keep piling on the numbers as she built a 63 20 lead. But a mid-match back injury slowed her momentum down and the No.29-seeded Stephens hung around, battling back to take the second set and stay even with a visibly hampered Williams through 3-all in the third.
Williams made one last stand, breaking for 4-3, but the circumstances were just too much - Stephens reeled off the last three games of the match to send shockwaves across the tennis world.
Stephens is the first American teenager to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam since Williams achieved the feat at the 2001 US Open, and the first American teenager other than the Williams sisters to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam since Alexandra Stevenson did it at 1999 Wimbledon.
"Last night someone asked me, 'Do you think you can win?' I thought about it and I was like, 'Yeah, I think so,' but I wasn't too clear about it," Stephens recalled in her press conference. "This morning when I got up, I was like, 'Dude, like, you can do this. Like go out and play and do your best.'
"I think I was convinced I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set and went down 2-0. I was like, 'Hmm, this is not the way you want it to happen. But just fight and just get every ball back, run every ball down, and just get a lot of balls in play. I think you'll be okay.
"From then on I got aggressive, started coming to the net more, and just got a lot more comfortable.
"I kind of just played my game from there, I think."
Williams discussed the injury after the match. "It's fine," she said. "Just nothing. Everyone at this stage in the locker room has something wrong with them, so it's fine - there's no excuse there."
But pressed on it, Williams explained more. "A few days ago it just got really tight and I had no rotation on it. I went for this drop shot in the second set today and it just locked up on me. It was a little painful, and I couldn't really rotate after that, which I guess is normal. But it's okay. It was what it was."
Coupled with an ankle injury from earlier in the tournament, Williams' fortnight has been hard. "I've had a tough two weeks between the ankle and my back - a lot of stuff," she added. "It was what it was."
There was still room for laughter in the press conference, though, as Williams was asked if she thought about retiring - and took the wrong meaning. "Are you kidding me? I'm not retiring," she said, "Oh, you mean, retiring in the match? I'm sorry - I thought you meant my career. Like, you're crazy.
"I thought about it for a nanosecond, but it's a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam," she said.
"I'd have to be taken off in a wheeler before I retire."