LONDON: Five-time champion Venus Williams suffered a shock 6-2, 6-3 defeat against unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
Not since Jelena Jankovic defeated Williams in the third round in 2006 had Venus failed to reach the women`s singles final here, but the American second seed was completely out-played by Pironkova, the world number 82, in the most remarkable result of this year`s Championships.
Venus had competed in eight of the last 10 Wimbledon finals and had been odds-on to make yet another appearance in the showpiece after moving through the first four rounds without dropping a set.
Yet there had been signs against Jarmila Groth in the fourth round that Venus was not at the top of her game as the Australian pushed her to a tie-break in their fourth round tie.
But even so Venus has been the queen of Wimbledon for so long that this ranks as a truely stunning upset.
Pironkova, the daughter of a former canoe champion, is the lowest ranked woman left in the draw and has never won a title on the main WTA tour. She can look forward to a semi-final showdown with Kim Clijsters or Vera Zvonareva.
Although Pironkova is ranked 81 places below Venus, the Bulgarian had no reason to believe she couldn`t shock the world number two because she had already upset her in the first round of the Australian Open four years ago.
That stunning victory in Melbourne in their last meeting was by far the best result of Pironkova`s career.
The 22-year-old from Plovdiv, who defeated former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli in the last round, had never even been past the second round of a grand slam in 18 previous attempts until her run here this year.
Playing for a place in the semi-finals of a grand slam could have been completely overwhelming for Pironkova. But she showed no signs of stage-fright on Court One.
Venus, who last won Wimbledon in 2008, has always relied on bullying opponents into submission with her huge serve and booming backhands, but Pironkova`s quick court coverage and clever use of the angles kept the American from finding her rhythm.
The tactic of moving Williams around the court paid off handsomely in the sixth game of the first set as Pironkova broke for a 4-2 lead.
With her ground-strokes way off target, Venus was unable to halt Pironkova`s momentum and the Bulgarian number one took the set when she converted her fourth break point in the eighth game with a perfect passing shot.
Venus had to fight off another break point in the second game of the second set and, even when she seemed to regain a measure of control by breaking for 2-1 lead, Pironkova just kept on coming at her.
When a sublime lob from Pironkova brought up a break point in the next game, Williams` frustration was clear to see.
She looked rattled and there was an air of desperation about her when she drove a wild forehand into the net to allow Pironkova to break back.
Even though her power-game wasn`t working, Venus made no attempt to change statergy.
Pironkova was playing the tennis of her life and all Venus could do was crudely blasted a backhand long to give the Bulgarian the decisive break for a 4-2 lead.
Pironkova didn`t falter when she had a chance to serve for the match and, after Williams missed a volley, the Bulgarian fell to the turf in sheer delight.
BDST: 2028hrs, June 29, 2010