© Ben Solomon

By Craig Gabriel

MELBOURNE, Australia: Serena Williams has struggled with pain and discomfort but still tried to give it all she had at the Australian Open. In the quarterfinals against Sloane Stephens, Serena had the early advantage but midway through the second set she chased down a short ball and almost immediately clutched her lower back.

Serena needed the trainer on court. The trainer was also joined by the tournament doctor and Serena explained the pain in her lower back. They couldn’t attend to her on court and Serena was taken back to the locker room for treatment.

A short time later she returned to the court but it was clearly evident that her movement was way off. She could not get to returns that would have been rudimentary but she was determined to stay on court.

“I thought about (retiring) like for a nanosecond,” said Serena. “I mean, it’s a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. Even if I have to take off in a wheeler before I retire.

“I just try to keep going and honestly do the best that I can.  And really it’s all I can do for that day. It was still tough.  It’s hard to rotate to the backhand.  It was giving me trouble.  But it was fine.  I think my opponent played well and was able to do a really good job.”

After two hours 17 minutes Stephens won the match and a place in the semifinals 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

“A few days ago it just got really tight and I had no rotation on it,” explained Serena. “I went for this drop shot in the second set and it just locked up on me, so… I think that it just ‑‑ I couldn’t really rotate after that, which I guess is normal. I don’t know.

“I was running to the net for a drop shot. As I went to hit it, it was on the backhand. I even screamed on the court. I was like, Ahh.  I totally locked up after that.  It was just like ‑‑ it was a little painful. But, I mean, it’s okay.  It was what it was.”

The restrictions she suffered meant that she did not have total flexibility with her serve. Over the last ten days she has been striking serves as fast as 125mph but when this happened the speed of her serve was cut in half. Stephens was then able to get more of a look in with her returns.

“You just have to pretend like nothing’s wrong,” Serena said. “You think of worst‑case scenarios. You know, I just thought, Okay, just pretend nothing’s wrong and just try your best. That’s what I tried to do.”

She added: “I’ve had a tough two weeks between the ankle, which is like this big every day, and my back, which started hurting. A lot of stuff, so… It was what it was.”