Serena Williams took on continuous drizzle and a feisty opponent and defeated both on her way to the quarter-finals today. She faced the wild card Yaroslava Shvedova, whose place in tennis history is secure after the extraordinary golden set she won – 24 straight points without reply – in Saturday’s round three. Kazakhstan’s finest took her time to get into gear today, although when she did she made this into a splendid match which saw some great tennis from both women. But at the age of 30, Serena understands that time may be short if she is to add to her tally of 13 Grand Slam titles, and eventually she forced victory 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 in one hour and 54 minutes. She will play the defending champion Petra Kvitova for place in the last four.
Some people call this day Magic Monday in the tennis calendar, when Wimbledon schedules the last 16 of both the men’s and women’s tournaments. Alas for Shvedova, in the first set she seemed to have left all her magic behind on Saturday, when she took that history-making set from Roland Garros runner-up Sara Errani. Early on today, Shvedova’s main problem was getting on the scoreboard at all, as the fearsome Williams service was functioning at full throttle. It was a reminder that Shvedova was not the only one setting records on Saturday – Serena delivered 23 aces during her third round victory over Zheng Jie, the most at any women’s match at Wimbledon since IBM began recording such matters in 1992. When she took today’s first set 6-1, it seemed Williams’ plan for coping with her widely known dislike of No.2 Court was to spend as little time on it as possible.
But from the start of the second set it was a different story and perhaps that was no surprise, as there is way more to Shvedova than a single statistical freak. For one thing, that was the first set the 24-year-old had lost at Wimbledon this year. For another, it is only a month since she arrived at Roland Garros as a qualifier and reached the quarter-finals, beating the defending champion Li Na en route. Actually that was the second time, not the first, that she has made the last eight at the French Open. Moreover, not only did she win the Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles with Vania King just two years ago, but she and King have six doubles titles to their names thisseason alone.
With both her coaching parents, Richard Williams and Oracene Price, unusually watching at courtside (albeit from very separate vantage points), Serena could not stamp her authority on the second set in the way she had on the first. At 2-3 she double-faulted for 15-40 and on the second break point Shvedova’s return did the trick. The two of them were producing some sparkling tennis, and Shvedova brought up a most fabulous set point – Williams was pounding the ball back at her and it seemed Shvedova must yield, but instead she found the strength to leave Serena stranded with a great pass. Williams saved that chance, but Shvedova earned another when she left Serena stranded again. This time Shvedova forced an error from the four-time Wimbledon champion and bellowed in celebration as the set was hers. Williams
wasn’t feeling quite so chipper, and received a warning from umpire Mariana Alves for racket abuse.
So to third, and it turned into one of those times when really you have to marvel at players such as Williams. This was not a lovely day; she was playing on a court that she doesn’t much like; it was her second tough match in a row here; she’s won Wimbledon four times on her way to 13 Grand Slams... we who watch think that really she could be forgiven for thinking she could just let this one go. But of course you don’t get to win 13 Grand Slams in the first place with that kind of mindset. Maybe with her desire sharpened by that first round loss a month ago at Roland Garros, Serena wanted this one. And it showed.
Shvedova was wobbling. She saved one break point at 3-3, and came back from 0-40 down at 4-4 with some great fighting play as light rain began to fall. Neither Williams nor Shvedova could know it, but play was suspended on all courts except this one in the far south-west corner of the All England Club site. At 5-5 Shvedova double-faulted
for 15-40, and next point a Williams return forced Shvedova to send the ball wide. At the changeover, the crowd started to do the Mexico wave – and Shvedova, instead of focusing on the match as she sat in her chair, was watching the crowd, laughing and apparently enchanted. But Williams was zoned in on what mattered. When Shvedova sent down a wonderful backhand pass, Serena reached it to fluke a lob for match point. Williams’ serve could draw only a weak return, which was duly despatched for the match winner.
“I knew I just really didn’t want to lose today,” Serena commented afterwards “I just had to stay relaxed. I let my opponent back in the match. I was sluggish mentally. If this is my best then I’m in trouble.
“I did not know play had stopped on all other courts as ours was ending, and it never crossed my mind to appeal to the umpire to stop. I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t feel it was that wet. I never felt like I was going to slip.
“It’s true that I can’t remember having two such long, tense matches in succession here before now but I feel totally fine. I’m not tired. I just know I can play so much better than I have been. I didn’t serve as well today as I did on Saturday. I’m never satisfied. I’m just going to keep on fighting.”