23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams is still on the hunt for an elusive 24th major, after suffering a gutting defeat to Chinese No. 1 Wang Qiang 6-4 6-7(2) 7-5 in two hours and 41 minutes.
On Chinese New Year's Eve, Wang cleverly navigated the sheer power from the Williams racquet and created plenty of her own opportunities with some clean hitting, striking 25 winners to only 20 unforced errors.
The shock third round result reversed the outcome of their previous meeting, where Wang only obtained one game en route to a comprehensive quarterfinal loss at the US Open.
Asked on Rod Laver Arena post-match if she could believe what she just achieved, the rising Chinese star bluntly said "yes", stoking laughter from the crowd.
"I think my team always believed I can do it. You know, after last time I do really hard work on the court and off the court, so I think it's really good work and I believed I could do it," Wang said.
The former world number one, looking to equal Margaret Court's all-time grand slam record at Melbourne Park, squandered three early chances to break Wang and was made to pay.
Hailing from Tianjin, and once calling the late-Australian tennis great Peter McNamara her coach, Wang cleverly redirected the pace off the American's racquet to capitalise with the lone break of the first set.
The match appeared destined for a boilover as Wang's clean-hitting ways continued, breaking off a sublime forehand inside-out winner.
But as Williams has reminded the Melbourne crowd time and time again over the years, don't underestimate the power of a champion.
Recovering from break point down, and as the rallies grew longer and more vocal with each blow, the former number one found a breakthrough as Wang served for the match at 5-4.
She pounced on returns and brought the game back to Wang, and with some brutal hitting, the luck of a net cord or two and a precocious decision to challenge a line call in the ensuing tiebreak, sent the match to a deciding set.
More to come…
Near-flawless Barty books fourth round berth
World number one Ash Barty has advanced to the second week of the Australian Open for the second straight year, blitzing fast-rising Kazakh Elena Rybakina 6-3 6-2.
In her most comprehensive Melbourne performance to date, the top-ranked Australian stomached a shaky start and a number of long-winded games on serve to make her fourth-round berth in 78 minutes.
"[It was a] very tough one. I felt like I had to be very switched on, a lot of the games drew out long and I just had to find my right time to get out of them," Barty told Nine post-match.
She next faces either her Wimbledon conqueror, Alison Riske, or her German doubles partner Julia Goerges, a prospect she finds enticing.
"It's incredible, Jules is a great friend of mine. It's really hard not to be friends with her, she's an unbelievable person," Barty said.
The in-form Rybakina, a finalist in Shenzhen and champion in Hobart, stamped her claim on the match from the first rally, breaking Barty to love as her walloping groundstrokes proved problematic for the world number one.
Despite being stretched behind the baseline, Barty backed her variety-rich game, finding great effect with her stinging backhand slice to immediately steal the break back.
Trading two more breaks of serve, Barty held her nerve to surge ahead for the first time, to the approval of the partisan crowd.
Rybakina's game began to fall apart, producing a smattering of unforced errors, including back-to-back mistakes at the net that granted Barty her third consecutive break.
After a rare service hold from the Kazakh, who found the service box less than 50 per cent of the time in set one, Barty displayed her slam-winning mettle to serve it out in 32 minutes.
Securing another early service break in the second set, the local favourite then held her nerve in a nine-minute, six-deuce game to consolidate the advantage.
The final nail in the coffin was dealt in a riveting forehand-to-forehand exchange.
Rybakina, with her tendency to hit the cover off the ball, attempted to wipe Barty off the court with pace.
But the guileful 23-year-old Australian toyed with her opponent and changed direction through a slick chip up the line, forcing her opponent into an error.
Swinging freer, the Australian bullied her 20-year-old opponent around the court, stepping in and closing exchanges with unreturnable shots or accurate volleys.
After fending off six break point opportunities, Barty won four of the last five games, serving out the match to book her place in the round of 16.
Caroline Wozniacki hangs up the racquet
It's the end of the line for Caroline Wozniacki, who carved out a career as one of the tour's most formidable defensive walls. But the former Australian Open champion bowed out in fitting style: with a three-set slogfest.
The Danish former world number one, daring to the very end, lost to Tunisia's Ons Jabeur 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 in just over two hours on Melbourne Arena.
And in her own words, the way the match ended "was just meant to be."
"It was only fitting my last match would be a three-setter, a grinder and that I would finish my career with a forehand error —those are the things I've been working on my whole career," Wozniacki told the adoring crowd.