MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams lost at the Australian Open early today for the first time since 2008, struggling with her serve and hitting too many unforced errors during a 6-2, 6-3 setback against Ekaterina Makarova.
Williams was surprised by the power of the groundstrokes from the Russian left-hander, who at No. 56 was the lowest-ranked woman to make the fourth round of the season’s first major.
The dominant force at Melbourne Park this century, Williams had lost only two matches at the Australian Open since winning the first of her five titles in 2003. She was on a 17-match winning streak after capturing back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 and missing last year because of an injury.
But she had seven double faults — including four in the fifth game of the second set — and 37 unforced errors to give Makarova a spot in the quarterfinals at a major for the first time. She’ll play either 2008 champion Maria Sharapova or Sabine Lisicki.
“I don’t know what to say. Amazing feeling and first time in quarterfinals,” the 23-year-old Makarova said. Williams is “an unbelievable player. It’s really tough to play against her so I’m really happy I finished it in my way.”
Williams sprained her left ankle in a warm-up tournament at Brisbane two weeks ago, but didn’t show any signs of being restricted on court.
She was bothered by a bug that landed on her left shoulder when she dropped serve for the first time in the match, and became increasingly exasperated as her misses piled up — including one overhead that she sent way too long and another that she hit meekly back for Makarova to pass her.
Williams won the first two games in the second set but then Makarova went on a roll, winning the next four games — including the double-fault strewn game at 2-2 when Williams screamed after one and asked herself out loud after another: “How many double-faults do you want to make?”
Williams didn’t blame her ankle injury or the heat, which increased to 93 during the day, but couldn’t even describe how bad her serve was.
“Yeah, I served like … it’s inappropriate. I don’t know,” she said. “It was just disastrous really. Maybe I should have started serving lefty.”
The Russian got tighter toward the end but kept her nerve to hold in a key game. Then, with Williams serving to stay in the match, she needed four match points before Williams sent a backhand wide.
The absence of Williams opens up the women’s draw, with Sharapova, defending champion Kim Clijsters and Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova the only major winners still in contention. Clijsters advanced to the quarterfinals with a comeback win over Li Na late Sunday in a rematch of the 2011 decider, while Kvitova had some trouble late before beating former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, 7-6 (2), in the opening match Monday.
On the men’s side, two-time Australian Open runner-up Andy Murray spent only spent 49 minutes on court and was leading 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 when Mikhail Kukushkin retired from their fourth-round match with a left hip injury, giving him an easy path to the quarterfinals.
He’ll next play Kei Nishikori, who had a stunning 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal also advanced into the quarters Sunday with easy, straight-set victories over Aussie Bernard Tomic and Feliciano Lopez, respectively.