MELBOURNE, Australia - Fresh off of one of the toughest defeats of her career, Serena Williams was full of praise for the woman who handed it to her.
The 23-time major champion was stunned by former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Tuesday, failing to convert on a 5-1 lead and four match points in the final set in a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 decision - having also suffered an untimely ankle roll in the final set.
Following the match, the American nonetheless lauded praise on the No.7 seed, whom she said "played her best tennis ever" with her back against the wall.
"I think she just played well on my serve after that point. I think she just kind of started playing really, really good. I don't think it had anything to do with my ankle, per se. I just think she was just nailing and hitting shots," Williams said.
"I think she just played lights out on match point, literally, hitting lines. [She] just went crazy on match point....Obviously, I made some mistakes, but she played really well after that.
"There's nothing I did wrong on those match points. I didn't do anything wrong. I stayed aggressive. She just literally hit the lines on some of them. One she hit an ace, unreturnable serve. I literally did everything I could on those match points.
"I can't say that I choked on those match points. She literally played her best tennis ever on those shots."
"My ankle is fine, maybe I'll feel it tomorrow. I think she played incredible on match points, just hitting lines. I didn't call the trainer out because I didn't feel I needed it."
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Williams had won her last 14 quarterfinals at Grand Slams, dating back to a loss to Sloane Stephens in the last eight of the 2013 Australian Open.
"The big picture for me is always winning. I'm not going to sit here and lie about that, but it hasn't happened yet, but I feel like it's going to happen. [I'm] just [going to] keep taking it one match at a time, just keep soldiering on, I guess," she said.
"It's definitely not easy for me. From day one, I expect to go out and, quite frankly, to win. That hasn't happened, but I do like my attitude. I like that I don't want to go out here and say, 'I expect to lose because I had a year off, I've been playing for 10 months. I'm not supposed to win.' I don't have that attitude.
"I have the attitude of, I've only been playing 10 months, but I expect to win, and if I don't, it's disappointing. I rather think of it that way and know that it's going to happen sooner or later than making an excuse for myself."
The World No.16 returned to competitive tennis last spring at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, having now completed her fourth Grand Slam since her return as she seeks to tie Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles with two runner-up showings and one quarterfinal appearance.
She added: "Like I said, from the first tournament I'm thinking that I should win, which is not practical. I know there's a lot of things that I need to do, a lot of things I need to do to get better, a lot of maybe more just matches.
"I just feel like as close as I want to say that I'm there, I know that there's a lot more that I need to do to kind of get there. Ten months, soon to be 11 months, soon it will be 12 months. It just takes time.
"I don't really take losses well, but, like I said, Karolina literally played lights out starting 5-1, 40-30. I've never seen anything like it. If anything, I think that's a little bit easier to know, 'Okay, next time I'm up 5-1 against anybody, whether it's her or anyone, I just need to make sure I play lights out when I have match points.'
"Right now, that would be Roland Garros because that's the next one, the next Grand Slam for me. I mean, 22 is close, 23 wasn't close, but 22 was close for a long time. 18 was close forever - yeah, we'll see."