WIMBLEDON, England - Venus Williams would shank a shot - and she shanked many on this day - then turn toward the Court 1 player guest box where her parents were seated and put her palms up or shrug her shoulders, as if to indicate, "I don't know what's happening here."
The five-time Wimbledon champion was out of sorts, out of answers and out of the tournament in the quarterfinals, stunned, 6-2, 6-3, yesterday by the lowest-ranked woman left, No. 82 Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.
Williams double-faulted five times and totaled 29 unforced errors, 23 more than her solid-if-not-spectacular opponent.
"Didn't do myself any favors," said the No. 2-seeded Williams, whose younger sister, No. 1 Serena, won yesterday to reach the semifinals. "I missed all shots today: forehand, volley, backhand. You know, if there was a shot to miss, I think I missed it."
It was Venus' 77th singles match at the All England Club and never had she won so few games. The only time she's been beaten at Wimbledon by someone ranked lower than Pironkova was on June 28, 1997, when she lost her tournament debut to No. 91 Magdalena Grzybowska.
Really, the only factor preventing this result from truly being considered one of the biggest upsets in tennis history is that Pironkova actually managed to do this before: She beat Williams at the 2006 Australian Open.
"I don't even really remember anything from last time," Williams said.
Pironkova, 22, never made it beyond the second round in 18 previous Grand Slam events, and never made the final at any tournament.
"No one expected me to [reach a] semifinal in Wimbledon," Pironkova said, "and to beat Venus Williams like that."
But Pironkova, who's coached by her father, must have believed this was possible, right? "If I have to be honest: no," she said. "Coming here, I really just wanted to play a good game, to maybe win one or two rounds. But [a] semifinal looked, to me, very far." Well, now she's there.
On the other side of the draw, defending champion Serena Williams smacked 11 aces - lifting her total for the tournament to a Wimbledon-record 73, one more than she hit last year - and made only six unforced errors in a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 9 Li Na of China.
She next faces 62nd-ranked Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who saved five match points and erased third-set deficits of 4-0 and 5-2 to eliminate 80th-ranked qualifier Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. 4-6, 7-6 (8), 8-6.