MELBOURNE, Australia — It wasn’t just Serena Williams’ serve that was missing Monday at the Australian Open. It was her aura, too.
Ekaterina Makarova, the lowest-ranked player left in the draw at No. 56, didn’t seem the least bit frightened of the error-ridden opponent across the net.
The Russian won 6-2, 6-3 – equaling the biggest Grand Slam defeat of Williams’ 17-year career – and will face Maria Sharapova in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Sharapova rallied past Sabine Lisicki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 before men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic fended off a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt in a dramatic last match of the day, winning 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
With Hewitt’s loss, Australia’s chances of celebrating a home singles winner were over. American hopes had already evaporated with the defeat of five-time champion Williams – her first in Melbourne since 2008 and her earliest since 2006.
“I can’t even describe how I served, to be honest,” said Williams, who finished with seven double-faults and a first-serve percentage barely topping 50. “My lefty serve is actually better than that. Maybe I should have started serving lefty.”
Williams also threw in 37 unforced errors, but Makarova played her part, boldly going for the lines and holding steady in a tight service game while leading 4-3 in the second set.
Playing Williams in Beijing in 2009, Makarova said she had been “afraid” of the American in a 6-3, 6-2 loss.
Not this time.
“I really thought that I could beat her,” Makarova said. “Maybe in my head that helped me.”
Williams tried not to blame her left ankle injury from a tuneup tournament in Brisbane two weeks ago, but she didn’t move well and seemed to have particular difficulty running to her left. She said if it hadn’t been a Grand Slam, she wouldn’t have played at all.
Sharapova overcame her own problems in her fourth-round match. She hit eight double-faults and made 47 unforced errors but found a way to win against the 14th-seeded Lisicki.
“I fought to the end, and sometimes that’s what gets you through,” said the Russian, who lost six games in a row after taking a 3-0 lead in the first set.
Djokovic had won 23 straight sets at Melbourne Park before he suddenly wobbled against Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam champion who has slipped to No. 181 in the rankings.
Hewitt, a wild-card entry in his 16th straight Australian Open, rallied from 3-0 down in the third set in front of a raucous home crowd to force a fourth set, but Djokovic gathered his composure.
“I think for two sets and 3-0 I was playing really well and suddenly I stopped moving,” Djokovic said. “He was not making a lot of unforced errors. I made a lot of unforced errors in the third set.”
Next up for Djokovic is David Ferrer, who had a surprisingly easy 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win over Richard Gasquet.