LEXINGTON, Ky. — Entering Friday, Serena Williams had played 967 tour-level singles matches as a professional, with just four losses against opponents ranked outside the top 100 – and none in eight years.
Well, it’s time to add to that list: Williams was beaten by No. 116 Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the Top Seed Open quarterfinals.
“It’s good to know,” Williams said, “I can play a lot, lot, lot better.”
She’ll want to do so soon: The U.S. Open begins Aug. 31.
Rogers, who is from South Carolina, took six of the last eight points Friday after trailing 3-1 in the tiebreaker to collect only her third career victory over a top-10 opponent.
She also reached her first WTA semifinal since 2016. Need to go even further back in the record books to find this sort of tournament exit for former No. 1 Williams: The owner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles hadn’t bowed out against someone so low in the rankings since No. 111 Virginie Razzano stunned her at the 2012 French Open.
Shortly after that, Williams teamed up with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who still works with her and was among the few people in the stands Friday — fans are not allowed at the first tennis tournament in the U.S. since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
It had happened only three other times, including in qualifying at Quebec City all the way back in 1995, when Williams was making her professional debut at age 14. Now she’s 38; Rogers is 27.
“It’s every kid’s dream when they’re growing up, watching her play, to be able to do something like that,” Rogers said. “Weird circumstances, weird setting, but a win is a win and I know we’re all just happy to be back playing.”
Later Friday, 16-year-old American Coco Gauff reached her second WTA semifinal with quite a comeback. One point from trailing by a set and two breaks, Gauff won 10 of the last 11 games to eliminate No. 8 seed Ons Jabeur 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Gauff was down 4-2 in the second set and facing a break point, but Jabeur sailed a backhand long. That was enough to let Gauff back into the match and she soon took full control.
In the semifinals, Gauff will meet Jennifer Brady, who advanced by beating Marie Bouzkova 6-1, 6-2.
Rogers faces Jil Teichmann of Switzerland on Saturday. Teichmann needed seven match points to reach the first hard-court semifinal of her career with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over CiCi Bellis.
The loss to Rogers was the third consecutive three-setter for Williams at the hard-court Top Seed Open. She dropped the opening set of each of the others before coming back to win, including against older sister Venus in the second round.
On Friday, starting after a rain delay of more than two hours, Williams seemed on the way to a much simpler victory. She never faced a break point until serving while trailing 5-4 in the second set.
That’s when things shifted.
Rogers earned three break points — each one a set point — and converted the third when Williams dumped a forehand into the net.
There were no breaks in the third set, and after Williams took the early lead in the tiebreaker, she was her own undoing with miss after miss, including a long backhand return to end it.
“I kind of made it difficult for myself by making a plethora of unforced errors,” Williams said.
With social-distancing rules in place, the players didn’t meet at the net for the customary post-match handshake. As they headed to their sideline seats, Williams smiled. Rogers simply sat down and quickly shook a fist.