Wang wows Williams in AO2020 stunner

  • Dan Imhoff

A 44-minute New York nightmare is all but a distant memory for China’s Wang Qiang, with the 27th seed avenging defeat to Serena Williams in a third-round Australian Open boilover on Friday.

The 29-year-old prevailed 6-4 6-7(2) 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena to end the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s bid to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record at Melbourne Park in 2020.

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Only four months ago, Wang scored a career-best win over Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty at Flushing Meadows before Williams trounced her in the last eight.

There she salvaged just one game – only 15 points total – in a brief but brutal outing on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Back on the big stage, Wang erased those memories, steadying after failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set to book a maiden fourth-round berth at Melbourne Park.

“Yes I think my team always believe I can do it,” said Wang, who lost her Australian coach Peter McNamara to cancer last July.

“You know after last time I do really hard work on court and off the court so I think it’s really good work, yes, I believe I can do it.

“I don’t know, during the second set I was a little bit confused because I lost the second set.

“I have to be calm, yes … my mind always told me I had to focus on court and trust myself.”

Absorbing Williams’ relentless aggression, Wang snatched the opening set and the huge upset inched closer to reality when she broke in the fifth game of the second set.

The 38-year-old Williams crunched a 143km/h forehand to fend off break point on her way to a 3-4 hold.

Time though was running out. And the No.8 seed sensed the pressure was firmly on, when her opponent stepped up to serve for the match at 5-4.

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Serena Williams in action on Friday

On just her second break point of the set, Williams ended a 24-shot rally with a forehand winner crosscourt, raising both arms in triumph as she levelled at 5-all.

Her biggest show of emotion for the set came when she flicked a forehand winner past an outstretched Wang for 5-2 in the tiebreak.

And the quest for an eighth Australian Open title was back on track when she served out the tiebreak two points later.

“I was optimistic I would be able to win,” Williams said of clinching the second set.

“I thought, OK, now finish this off. I honestly didn't think I was going to lose that match.”

The American had won 17 of the 23 three-set matches she had contested at Melbourne Park.

And after falling to Karolina Pliskova in a deciding set last year, she faced the prospect of back-to-back three-set Australian Open defeats for the first time since 2014 when she served to stay in the match at 5-6.

Back-to-back errors from the No.8’s seeds racquet drew her within two points of defeat and when a backhand sailed long it handed Wang two match points.

Nerves gripped the Chinese player as loose errors cost her both opportunities but it was a case of third time lucky when Williams dumped a backhand into the net to confirm the upset of the tournament to date.

“I mean, personally I made a lot of errors,” Williams conceded.

“I didn't hit any of those shots in New York or in general in a really long time. So that's good news.

“I just made far too many errors to be a professional athlete today.”

Her bid for a record-equalling 24th major would now turn to Roland Garros. With three majors still to play for in 2020, Williams was non-committal when pressed on whether she would be back to Melbourne Park in 2021.

“Yeah, you know, I feel like I'm on the way up, so we'll see,” she said. “I don't know. I'm not even thinking about anything, about not being here.”

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Wang Qiang during her match with Serena Williams

Wang put her victory down to the lessons she learnt from the hiding she suffered to Williams at Flushing Meadows last year.

She knew she had to build her strength if she was to topple the likes of a heavy-hitting Williams in future.

“In off-season we do, like, three hours tennis in a row,” Wang said.

“I think it's really helped me to be stronger on the court, mentally tough on the court.

“I think just my coach, Thomas, he always said, I believe 200 per cent in you, so you must believe in yourself.”

And there was a touching tribute to her former coach, McNamara, who had guided the Chinese player since 2015 until his passing last year.

“I always dream about him,” Wang said.

“I think he can see what I play today. He will [be] proud of me. I really hope he can be here watch I play. Yes, I miss him.”