MELBOURNE, Australia — As heavily favored as Serena Williams is to win the women’s singles title at the 2013 Australian Open, she was an even heavier favorite to win with her sister Venus at her side.
The sisters have won 13 women’s Grand Slam doubles titles and another three Olympic gold medals, a haul of 16 that equals Serena’s singles in those categories (15 Grand Slams, one Olympic Gold). But whereas Serena is currently playing her 50th Grand Slam singles draw, she has played Grand Slam doubles just more than half as many times, 27, making her conversion percentage on championships far higher.
But despite that efficiency, she and Venus flailed out of the doubles draw Tuesday in Melbourne, failing to find their form and falling 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 in the quarterfinals to the top-seeded team of Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
The match was full of uncharacteristic lowlights for the pair. First Venus failed to serve out a victory up 5-4 in the second set, then Serena followed suit by failing to serve out the match at 6-5. The two then quickly went down 0-6 in the second set tiebreak before losing it 1-7.
Serving at 5-5 in the third set, Venus hit two double faults late in the game to get broken. On the first, she hit a second serve that bounced well before the net, causing her to scream. The second came on break point, putting the match on Errani’s racket. The sisters then made four quick unforced errors as they tried to break to stay in the match, allowing the Italians to hold at love for the victory.
To add injury to insult, Serena also appeared to feel some discomfort in her right ankle at times in the match, which she initially injured in her first-round singles match but from which she has since shown few ill effects.
With the loss, the sisters have now won fewer than half of the Grand Slam doubles draws they’ve entered, their still unthinkably high championship percentage slipping to 48.1 percent (13 for 27).
Although it might seem like the Williamses, who play infrequently, should not have been favored to win against a top-ranked pair, history suggests against that. They were previously 4-1 against top seeded pairs at Grand Slams, and they walloped Errani and Vinci 6-1, 6-1 at the Olympics.
Still aglow after their victory, Errani and Vinci were asked if they, as top seeds, should have had to play the Williamses as early as the quarterfinals. Errani, whose English is the stronger of the two, demurred, saying that all the teams had earned their rankings and it would be unfair to switch them. But as her partner spoke with fair-minded political savvy, Vinci could not help herself from nodding vigorously.