Australian Open wide open after Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka shocks

Serena Williams at the Australian Open (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Serena Williams at the Australian Open (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) /

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka crashed out of the Australian Open just months after comprehensively beating the same opponents at the US Open.

In the space of a few hours at Melbourne Park, the Australian Open women’s singles was turned on its head.

Compared to the consistent dominance of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the men’s Grand Slam events, the women’s majors have always been more unpredictable.

But the tournament losing the top two favorites on the same day, as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka crashed out in the third round on Friday, was a turn of events no one saw coming.

Serena was an extremely short-odds favorite to get the better of China’s Wang Qiang, who she had defeated so comprehensively at the US Open in September.

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Osaka was also strongly favored to get the better of 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who had struggled to put up much of a fight in their own Flushing Meadows matchup.

One of Serena, Osaka and Simona Halep, who remains in the tournament, have been in seven of the last eight major finals, the American having made 19 finals in the 33 Slams she played in the last decade.

Now, the stunning exits for Serena and Osaka leave the Australian Open wide open for Halep, Ash Barty and a host of other contenders.

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In recent history, it is only last year’s French Open, ultimately won by Barty when the Australian’s profile was significantly lower than it is now, which has opened up to this degree at such an early stage.

There, Serena and Osaka also fell in the third round and while Halep was able to progress further, she could not take advantage to go all the way, with Barty and Marketa Vondrousova becoming first-time finalists and teenager Amanda Anisimova reaching the last four.

The second week of the Australian Open now looks like it could be similarly unpredictable, even though a number of experienced challengers remain.

Serena ‘unprofessional’ in Australian Open exit

Serena did not hide her frustration after going down to Wang, who earned a stunning 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 7-5 triumph in an epic lasting two hours and 41 minutes.

She made a remarkable 56 unforced errors in the three sets compared to 20 in a solid display from Wang, who the American had overwhelmed 6-1 6-0 at the US Open.

Serena won her first WTA Tour title in three years in perfect preparation for the tournament, but told reporters (h/t The Independent) she was “unprofessional” in the loss and vowed she would be returning to practice tomorrow.

"“I just made far too many errors to be a professional athlete today. If we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match. It’s not about the tournament, it’s just like I can’t play like that. I literally can’t do that again. That’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.“She served well. I didn’t return like Serena. I’m definitely going to be training tomorrow to make sure I don’t do this again. I was optimistic I would be able to win [after the second set]. I thought, ‘OK now finish this off’. I honestly didn’t think I was going to lose that match.”"

Gauff supreme in shock victory

It did not take Gauff anywhere near as long as Wang to claim her astonishing upset.

Just as it seemed the Australian Open draw was opening up perfectly for Osaka following Serena’s elimination, Gauff took just 67 minutes to send her packing, the 15-year-old winning 6-3 6-4 and dropping serve just once.

She has now matched her best performance at a major by making the fourth round, also achieved in her breakout competition at Wimbledon where she lost to eventual winner Halep.

This time she will have to get the better of underrated Sofia Kenin, who won her match against Shuai Zhang and will sense an opportunity to make the Slam breakthrough she threatened for much of last year.

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As well as Serena, another top American player fell as 10th seed Madison Keys lost to Maria Sakkari, but there was a win for Alison Riske as CiCi Bellis prepares to play Elise Mertens on Saturday.