MELBOURNE, Australia: Sloane Stephens wiped away tears as she thought about hanging a poster of herself on a wall in the place of her childhood hero.
Stephens, a 19-year-old American, seemed to be in shock, barely able to compute how she’d produced the upset of the Australian Open by beating 15-time major winner Serena Williams in the quarterfinals Wednesday. It was her first trip that far in seven Grand Slam tournaments.
A poster of Williams had adorned the wall on Stephens’ bedroom as a child. Now, in her view, they’re peers.
“This is so crazy,” Stephens said in a post-match TV interview after rallying from a set and a break down against an injured and angry Williams. “Oh my goodness. I think I’ll put a poster of myself [up] now.”
The 29th-seeded Stephens won 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. She calmed the nerves and started swinging harder and lifting her tempo at 4-3 in the second.
That’s when Williams jarred her back trying to pull up before the net as she chased down a drop shot. Williams let out a loud scream and hopped away. Stephens had a look back over the net, seemingly in concern.
Williams started taking time between points, limping, and trying to stay in the shade at the back of the court.
Williams later called for the trainer between games. She had a three-minute medical timeout and came back serving at a pace well below her usual speed.
“Well, at that point you just have to pretend like nothing’s wrong,” Williams said. “You think of worst case scenarios. You know, I just thought, OK, just pretend nothing’s wrong and just try your best.”
Stephens’ surprise win did instant wonders for her celebrity.
Before the match, Stephens said she had about 17,000 followers on Twitter. A few hours after reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal, she had more than 40,000.
Retired basketball star Shaquille O’Neal sent a message that read: “When u defeat a legend you become a legend.” The Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki wrote, “Wow. What a win for Sloane. Some amazing defense. She gets every ball back.”
Stephens checked her phone during her post-match news conference and said there were 213 text messages waiting for her.
Like many a teenager, her first concern was about how high her phone bill might be.
“I thought it was free to receive text messages, but someone told me otherwise,” she said.
Her mother “is going to be like, ‘The money you were going to buy yourself something nice with, you’re going to pay your phone bill.’ ”
She’s set for her biggest payday, regardless of the result in today’s semifinal against defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who beat two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1 in the previous match in Rod Laver Arena.
The semifinal losers earn $525,000, double what the quarterfinal losers receive. For Williams, there’s a further $1,500 deduction after she was fined for racket abuse.
Stephens had practiced with Williams for the Fed Cup, but had played her only once, a straight sets loss at the Brisbane International earlier this month.
“Brisbane helped me because I got the first time we played out of the way,” she said. “First time is always tough. Definitely I was glad that I got it there ... it helped me raise my level.”
She’ll need to maintain that level within 24 hours to play the top-ranked Azarenka today. That will follow the semifinal between No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova and No. 6 Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion.
The makeup of the men’s semifinals was as expected.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic will continue his bid for a third consecutive Australian title today when he takes on No. 4 David Ferrer. No. 2 Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray will meet Friday.
Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, hadn’t dropped serve in the tournament until the first set against 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday. He ended up with a struggle on his hands before advancing to his 10th consecutive Australian Open semifinal with a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 win in 3 hours, 34 minutes.
Murray beat Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 earlier Wednesday and hasn’t dropped a set this tournament.