For a champion as intensely proud and competitive as Serena Williams, she cut a surprisingly pragmatic figure in her press conference on Wednesday.

Less than an hour earlier she had let slip a 5-1 lead in the third set and four match points to Karolina Pliskova, after having worked incredibly hard to drag herself back into their quarterfinal showdown from a set and a break down.

This loss had to sting. But the American legend believed she had simply been outplayed when on the precipice of victory, refusing to blame a rolled ankle she suffered – yet which she felt required no medical attention – on her first match point.

“I literally did everything I could on those match points. I can’t say that I choked on those match points. She literally played her best tennis ever on those shots,” Williams reflected.

“I think she just played lights out on match point, literally, hitting lines. Just went crazy on match point.

“At that point I’m just trying to think, Okay, win some points, win this game. Then I had a couple more match points on her serve. Naturally I thought, All right, here we go, you’re going to win one of these.

“That clearly didn’t happen, but I was just trying at that point. I can’t really say that it’s incredibly painful as opposed to what can I do better.”

It was only Serena’s second loss since 2014 at Melbourne Park, where she is a seven-time champion – most recently in 2017.

Naturally, attention turned to the fact that she remains sitting on a Grand Slam singles title tally of 23 – one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.

It’s a mark Williams has been open about chasing, equalling and surpassing, and something that looked increasingly likely to happen given her form in Melbourne this fortnight.

After being soundly beaten in last year’s Wimbledon final against Angelique Kerber, and after being outplayed in a traumatic US Open final by Naomi Osaka, Williams appeared to have found a calmly ruthless groove in Australia, swatting aside her first three opponents before notching a statement win over world No.1 Simona Halep in the fourth round.

And she tapped into that groove again midway through the second set and for much of the third against Pliskova as she stormed towards was looked an almost-certain victory.

Yet she fell short.

“The big picture for me is always winning. I’m not going to sit here and lie about that. But it hasn’t happened yet,” Williams said. “I feel like it’s going to happen. Just keep taking it one match at a time, just keep soldiering on, I guess.

“Right now (my next chance to reach 24) would be Roland Garros because that’s the next one, the next Grand Slam for me. But, yeah, I mean, (reaching) 22 was close, 23 wasn’t close, but 22 was close for a long time. (Getting to) 18 was close forever.

“We’ll see.”

Source: Matthew Trollope