It was an Australian Open to forget for Serena Williams. The five-time tournament champion was eliminated by fellow American Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals, and judging by the picture she posted on Twitter, injuries played a major role:
Ouch mob.li/_nxDCj— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) January 24, 2013
The problems started almost immediately. Williams rolled her ankle in the opening set of her first-round match against Edina Gallovits-Hall, which ultimately led to what you see in the picture the tennis star sent out to her 3.4 million followers.
Despite the injury, she decided to keep competing in both the singles and doubles draws. While nobody would expect a warrior like Williams to drop out of the main draw, playing doubles with her sister surely didn't help the ankle's cause.
Although she continued to cruise past overmatched opponents, Williams didn't feature her usual overwhelming power. The fact she kept winning anyway is a testament to the difference between her and everybody else when Williams is healthy.
Then she arrived in the quarters for a hyped match with Stephens, a rising star in the women's game. Williams won the first set and appeared on her way to yet another major semifinal before the injury bug struck again.
This time, Williams tweaked her back, limiting her range of movement and combining with the ailing ankle to give Stephens the edge. The young American took full advantage, reaching the semifinals for the first time in her career before losing to Victoria Azarenka.
Would Williams have won the event if healthy?
While it is not entirely fair to Stephens (who played a solid match regardless of the circumstances) to say her victory was due to Williams' injuries, it was clear the most dominant player on the women's side was playing at well below 100 percent.
Even though the severely swollen ankle will probably hinder Williams for a while, it is not a major concern right now. At this point in her career, everything revolves around the four Grand Slam events, not the minor tournaments in between.
Luckily, the next major is the French Open, which doesn't start until late May. That gives Williams four months to let the swelling go down and work back to full strength.
Williams was shocked by Virginie Razzano in the first round of the season's second major last year. She'll be looking to erase that memory, but she'll need a healthy ankle in order to do so.