WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Hobbled and hurting and essentially playing on one leg, Serena Williams managed to gut out a three-set victory at Wimbledon on Monday against an opponent who helped by fading right along with the daylight.
Williams crumpled to the grass in the second set with a left calf injury, was treated on court, then kept on playing, barely able to move. Given a reprieve by a nearly two-hour rain delay, Williams returned to compete, over her mother’s protests.
And she won, prolonging her bid for a third title at the All England Club by getting past No. 10-seeded Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-2 to set up a quarterfinal showdown against No. 1 Justine Henin. When Hantuchova dumped a backhand into the net for the last of her 28 unforced errors, Williams blew a kiss to the charcoal-colored clouds above Centre Court.
“I thought about not finishing, but very briefly. I thought I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I hadn’t at least tried,” the No. 7 Williams said. “I’ve never dealt with such pain. I can’t believe – I can’t believe I won, really.”
It was, in many respects, an all-around startling day at Wimbledon, particularly for the Williams family. Serena’s older sister Venus double-faulted 14 times, faced 23 break points, trailed 5-3 in the final set and still figured out a way to beat Akiko Morigami of Japan 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in a match suspended because of rain Saturday.
“Two crazy matches,” said the sisters’ mother, Oracene Price, summing up her daughters’ day. “I’ve got to say, they’ve got fight. If they don’t have nothing else, they’ve got fight.”
Well, Serena and Venus Williams happen to have plenty more, which is why they have won a combined 13 Grand Slam singles titles, five at Wimbledon.
And why they are still in this year’s tournament, with Venus to face 2004 champion Maria Sharapova on Tuesday for a quarterfinal berth.
If she’s able to play, Serena will meet Henin in a rematch from last month’s French Open, where the Belgian won their quarterfinal en route to the title.
Henin, trying to complete a career Grand Slam at Wimbledon, beat No. 15 Patty Schnyder 6-2, 6-2.
Asked about the matchup against Henin, one that would be worthy of a major final, Serena sidestepped looking ahead, saying, “Getting through today is great. That’s the only thing I’m focused on right now.”
Hantuchova had just hit a forehand winner to make the score 5-5, 30-15 in the second set when Serena, walking along the baseline, suddenly felt a grab in her lower left leg. She whacked herself in the calf three times with her racket, then clutched at the muscle and sprawled on the ground.
The 2002 and 2003 Wimbledon champion was down for more than five minutes, grimacing and dropping her head in the grass while a trainer massaged her calf and applied ice. It was diagnosed as a spasm-induced calf strain.
Eventually, play continued, but Serena limped around, sometimes struggling merely to walk.
While she wiped away tears, up in the stands Venus used both hands to cover her eyes, and Price shook her head.
After Hantuchova went up 6-5, Serena somehow held serve to force a tiebreaker, getting to 6-all with a 110 mph ace and a shriek.
With Hantuchova up 4-2 in the tiebreaker, a drizzle forced a suspension. A crowd that suddenly was behind Serena actually applauded the chair umpire’s announcement of a rain delay, something unprecedented in these parts.
“I was definitely saved by the rain,” Serena would say later. “I couldn’t move before the rain. Just everything stopped.”
When play resumed, both of her calves were taped heavily. She also was wearing ankle-length white pants under her skirt to protect her legs from the chill, with temperatures in the low 50s.
“It’s so hard to play against somebody that you know is struggling,” Hantuchova said, “and you kind of feel sorry.”
After Hantuchova won the tiebreaker, Serena opened the third set with two aces and a service winner, reaching 120 mph.
Still, she ran stiffly and occasionally paused to stretch her bothersome calf. When she slapped one easy forehand into the net, Serena cracked her racket against the court with such force she needed to replace it.
The next game, the fourth of the final set, proved a turning point.
Serving at 30-love, Hantuchova hit a drop shot, the sort of thing she probably could have done many more times against her slowed foe. It won the point – and also riled up Serena.
“That pretty much set it off for me,” the American said. “After that, I was so motivated to win. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to die trying.”‘
That would be the last game Hantuchova would win. Serena broke for a 4-2 edge when Hantuchova missed a backhand, served an ace to make it 5-2, then broke again to reach her 20th Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Making her first career major quarterfinal was No. 31 Michaella Kracijek, younger sister of 1996 Wimbledon men’s champion Richard. She defeated Laura Granville of the United States 6-3, 6-4.
Third-round winners included 16-year-old Tamira Paszek of Austria, French Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic and 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Paszek wasn’t bothered in the least by the stops and starts and stops caused by showers that interrupted six of the tournament’s seven days. “The strawberries with cream, playing all in white, the grass courts, covering, uncovering the courts, rain delays, rain delays – just everything is so special,” she said.
There also was other intrigue. Three-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal thought he reached the fourth round when he hit a forehand on match point against Robin Soderling. That was at 7-6 in the third-set tiebreaker, Nadal already having won the first two sets. Nadal thrust his arms in the air, then paused, realizing his shot was called wide. He challenged the ruling, but the new instant replay system showed the call correct, making the tiebreaker score 7-7 – and forcing Nadal to keep playing.
Right then, though, came rain. When they resumed two hours later, Soderling won the next two points to take the third set, then took the fourth, too. Nadal led 2-0 in the fifth when showers forced play to stop for the day. Three other men’s third-round matches were halted in progress.
Four men reached the fourth round: No. 7 Tomas Berdych, No. 10 Marcos Baghdatis, No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny and 35-year-old Jonas Bjorkman, who eliminated 36-year-old Wayne Arthurs 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in the first match between men that old at Wimbledon since 1974.
“I feel much younger,” the 19th-seeded Bjorkman said. “And I think I’m moving great.”