There was a smashed racket, a bit of swearing, an injury and even a foot fault.

All in all, a vintage Serena Williams match, except that she lost.

A fortnight that began with an ankle injury and involved her hitting herself in the face with her racket, ended yesterday with a back injury and defeat in the quarter-finals to 19-year-old fellow American Sloane Stephens, tipped by many as her eventual successor.

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Having missed out on a third straight grand slam title, Williams would usually have been distraught but it almost seemed as if her 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 defeat was a good thing, so tough had the fortnight been on her body.

"I've had a tough two weeks between the ankle and my back, which started hurting a few days ago," she said.

On court, Williams could be heard to tell the trainer it was the worst two weeks of her life. "For a grand slam, absolutely it was," she said. "I'm almost relieved that it's over because there's only so much I felt I could do. It's been a little difficult."

In the build-up, much had been made of how Serena had been a mentor to Stephens, a role model for one of the few black girls succeeding in a white-dominated sport.

Stephens is a huge talent and a great mover and will have relished her first grand slam semi-final against world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, which was due to be played in the early hours, UK time.

But it would be wrong to suggest this defeat should be seen as a passing of the torch. Without the injury, Williams would surely have won. Robbed of the best shot in the women's game, her serve, she was almost powerless. Nevertheless, Stephens was briefly spooked as Williams almost handed her the match in the second set but when the No.3 seed smashed her racket in anger early in the final set, the writing was on the wall. "I even had a wry smile on my lips after that," Williams said. "It made me happy, unfortunately."

Williams said she could not twist fully on her backhand side. "A few days ago, it just got really tight and I had no rotation on it," she said. "I went for a drop shot in the second set and it just locked up on me.

"I've been injury free for a while until I got to this tournament, and just fell and had the ankle issues. I think that kind of started every-thing up the chain because I'm compensating and maybe it made my back hurt."

Regaining the No.1 ranking may have to wait; the defeat left Williams' requiring both Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, who was playing Li Na in the other semi-final, to lose their matches if she is to get back on top.

"No.1 is awesome if I get it," she said. "I think I'll get [back] there one day. If not, I've had it, so it is what it is."