MELBOURNE – Serena Williams tumbled to the ground, her heavily taped right ankle turning, her body contorting, her racket flying.
This was early in the second set of a competitive-as-can-be matchup in the Australian Open's fourth round against a younger version of herself — stinging serves, huge groundstroke cuts, a fierce streak — and during a stretch Sunday (Saturday night EST) when things seemed to be slipping away.
Williams quickly put up a hand to indicate she was OK, retied the laces of her right shoe and, while it took her a bit to regain control, she did so, just in the nick of time. Grabbing the last two games, Williams pulled out 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka to reach the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
Two years ago at this tournament, Williams was on the verge of a quarterfinal win when she hurt her ankle and ended up losing.
“Well, my first thought was, ‘Not another ankle sprain in Australia.’ But I knew immediately that it wasn’t. Then I was more embarrassed than anything. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ I don’t like falling," Williams said. “But I was fine. I mean, once I realized I didn’t twist my ankle, like at all, I was like, ‘OK, I’m good, let me just get up.’”
Williams, who wore a black T-shirt with “Unstoppable Queen” in capital gold letters to her news conference, moved closer to an eighth Australian Open championship and record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title overall.
Her most recent came in 2017, while she was pregnant.
On a cloudy day with the temperature in the mid-60s Fahrenheit (high teens Celsius), both Williams and Sabalenka dismissed much in the way of subtlety or nuance.