The plug was finally pulled on the Ashleigh Barty party on Monday by grass court demon Alison Riske, as the French Open champion and world No 1 was knocked out to open up the draw for new Wimbledon favourite Serena Williams.
With Court 2 proving an unhappy hunting ground for the top seeds, Barty suffered her first singles loss since mid-May at the hands of Riske.
She was later followed out of the tournament by third seed Karolina Pliskova, who lost to Czech compatriot Karolina Muchova 4-6, 7-5, 13-11.
Their exits have cleared the way for 37-year-old, seven-time champion Williams, who comprehensively beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-2 on Court No 1.
Yet although her quarter-final looks simpler on paper than a match-up against Barty would have been, Riske is in formidable form, with 14 wins and just one loss on grass this season.
And the American world No 55 showed that on Monday, battling back from a set down to make her first Grand Slam quarter-final and fulfil a long-term dream of making Wimbledon’s ‘last eight club’.
Riske had looked up against it in the first game when watching four aces thunder past her, and was then broken for 1-3 with a backhand error.
And despite breaking back for 3-4, Barty once again showed her ruthless side with a stunning backhand down the line to break again, and held serve to lead by a set.
But the Australian’s first serve then began to falter, with just 40 per cent of them going in during the second set, and Riske broke twice to level the match.
In a tight deciding set, her opportunity eventually came in the eighth game, when she pummelled a huge forehand down the line to break, and when Barty sent a backhand wide on the first match point, she achieved her first fourth-round victory, winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
On making her first Grand Slam quarter-final, she said: ‘I’m so incredibly excited. The fact that it’s at Wimbledon, my favourite Grand Slam, the place that I had always dreamed to be in the last eight club of, they can’t kick me out now, I’m here to stay. I am just over the moon, so happy. I’m looking to keep it going.’
With all her matches having gone to three sets, Riske has clocked nine hours and five minutes on court across the first four rounds. In contrast, Williams has reached the quarter-finals in the quickest time of the last eight, having played for five hours and 10 minutes.
Looking ahead to playing Williams, Riske said: ‘I think today was a great preparation for me going into the Serena match. Again, I’m ready for a war.’
Williams had only played five tournaments this year before beginning her campaign at SW19 due to a knee injury, and said it was a ‘victory in itself’ not to be playing in pain any more.
‘I have more matches this week than in the past five months, but it’s all good,’ she told the BBC, in reference to her combined singles and mixed doubles efforts.
In recording her seventh successive victory against world No 31 Suarez Navarro, Williams broke in the first game and again to give herself a 5-2 lead, and handled falling foul of a rule she didn’t know — regarding leaning over the net — to hold and take the set.
She started the second set strongly again, breaking twice, and despite being broken to love by the Spaniard, held on to her lead to claim victory in one hour and four minutes.
‘I literally can’t even tell you how much better I feel,’ she said afterwards when asked about her knee.
‘That’s a relief. That’s a victory in itself, to know that I’m feeling better no matter what.
‘The further you get along, the further you start thinking, “I have a chance to win this”.’
Whilst the scheduling on Manic Monday once again raised eyebrows, mainly due to Williams being put on Court 1 and Barty being put on Court 2, the players appeared unfazed.
Williams said: ‘I was happy that I was first on, seeing that potentially it’s two matches back-to-back. I think for me, again, it boils down to I’m here to play.
‘I’m not here to complain about a lot of stuff unless I need to. Someone has to be there, and I’m fine.’
Meanwhile, Barty — who summed up her loss as a ‘tough one to swallow’ but said her ‘execution wasn’t quite there’ — was equally diplomatic.
‘I’ll play on any court I’m scheduled on,’ she said. ‘Court 2 is a beautiful court here.’