MELBOURNE, Australia – American Serena Williams’ long winning streak came to an end in a stunning fourth-round defeat to Ana Ivanovic of Serbia at the Australian Open on Saturday.
Ivanovic hadn’t won a set in her four previous matches against the top-ranked Williams, who had been a favorite to win a sixth Australian Open crown for her 18th major singles title.
Williams later admitted she had been bothered by a back problem in practice in recent days and considered pulling out of the tournament.
The 14th-seeded Ivanovic set up the 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory by attacking perhaps the best serve in women’s tennis. She frequently stood well inside the baseline to receive and took big swipes on her forehand.
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“It’s not easy playing such a champion … but she is also just a human,” Ivanovic said. “I just went out there swinging at the ball.”
Williams hadn’t lost a match since August, one of four defeats in 2013, and came into the fourth round with 25 straight victories. It was her 70th match at Melbourne Park, a record in the Open era.
“It wasn’t the best,” Williams said after being told her coach had released news of her back problem. Again, I don’t want to blame anything. I feel like Ana deserves all the credit. I feel she played unbelievable today. I think she went for her shots. It’s not like I gave her the match.”
On the other hand, Williams also told media, “I obviously wasn’t hitting the way I normally would hit. Or moving the way I normally would move. I know for a fact I can play so much better than what I did today. I’m not disappointed in anything. I just know I can play 10 times better than I played today.”
Williams has been almost perfect after winning the first set in Australian Open matches, losing once in 52 previous matches after taking the opening set.
Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion, had 33 winners, including 20 on her forehand side.
Williams hit 22 winners but made 31 unforced errors, with most coming uncharacteristically on her backhand side.
“I made a tremendous amount of errors, shots … I haven’t missed since the ’80s,” Williams said.
Top-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain trounced No. 25 Gael Monfils of France 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.
Nadal skipped the tournament in 2013 during a seven-month layoff for illness and injuries, depriving him of a chance to pick up two full sets of Grand Slam titles. The Australian Open is the only major Nadal has not won at least twice, with his sole triumph in Melbourne in 2009.
There were other lopsided matches, with two-time women’s defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus routing Yvonne Meusburger of Austria 6-1, 6-1 to set up a rematch with American Sloane Stephens. Three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia routed No. 15 Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-3, 6-0, 6-2.
Third-seeded David Ferrer of Spain overcame a sluggish start to beat Florian Mayer of Germany 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 6-2, 6-1.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who is two tournaments into a return from minor back surgery in September, posted a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 26 Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
“I’ve recovered well after the matches,” the fourth-seeded Murray said. “From time to time a bit of stiffness and soreness, but for the most part it’s been good.”
Meanwhile, Flavia Pennetta’s late-career revival continued as the Italian reached her first Australian Open quarterfinal with a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 victory over ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany.
The 28th-seeded Pennetta, who turns 32 next month, has played some of her best tennis since returning last February from a wrist injury that caused her ranking to drop as low as No. 166 in the world.
Two-time finalist Li Na of China beat No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-0.