LONDON, (Reuters) – An air of calm, and light rain, descended at Wimbledon yesterday as Serena Williams avoided the trail of destruction that decimated the field at the All England Club on day three of the grasscourt major.
A day after men’s champion Roger Federer and Williams’ two closest rivals for the Rosewater Dish, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, perished during a ‘Whacky Wednesday Wipeout’, it was left to the American to restore a semblance of normality.
The world number one did just that by bullying her way past Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia 6-3 6-2 and then summed up what a daunting prospect her rivals face every time they tackle her.
“I wouldn’t want to play me at 21 or 31!” the 31-year-old top seed, who is looking to draw level with Federer’s haul of 17 grand slam titles, told reporters.
She was declared the overwhelming favourite for the title before a ball had been struck in anger this week and, after Wednesday’s chaos, it seems no one will be able to topple her. At 42, Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm will have nothing to lose when she takes on the world number one in the third round.
Williams was excited about the prospect of playing the Japanese warrior, who became the oldest female to reach the Wimbledon third round in the professional era with a 6-4 7-5 victory over Romanian Alexandra Cadantu.
“She’s incredibly inspiring. She’s so fit. I watched her when I was super young growing up. I don’t know how she’s able to do so well,” said Williams. Apart from Azarenka and Sharapova, three other former world number ones – Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic – also slipped and skidded out of the tournament on Wednesday with many of them declaring the lush green turf “too dangerous”.
Australian Open champion Azarenka and men’s sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were among a record seven players to withdraw from a grand slam tournament in a single day.
Twenty four hours later French duo Michael Llodra and Paul-Henri Mathieu added their names to Wimbledon’s growing injury list after retiring hurt.
They were the 11th and 12th players to pull out during a turbulent week at the grasscourt major.
Despite all the drama and controversy, Wimbledon’s new head groundsman declared on Thursday he was “100 percent happy” with the condition of the courts.
Whether it was bad luck or there is any truth in the opinion that the courts are acting up this year, it is clear that the second week of the tournament will have an unfamiliar feel to it after so many of the sport’s big guns made a hasty exit.
Sprawling houses around the All England Club grounds that had been rented out for two weeks were abruptly vacated as Rafa Nadal, Federer, Tsonga and Lleyton Hewitt all headed home just 72 hours into the tournament.
Their demise opened the way for Andy Murray to finally end Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion here as the next highest seed left in the bottom half of the draw is claycourt-loving Spaniard Nicolas Almagro at number 15.
Asian hopefuls avoided the wreckage to join Date-Krumm in the third round with 12th seed Kei Nishikori downing Leonardo Mayer 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2 and Chinese sixth seed Li Na recovering from a second set meltdown to beat Simona Halep 6-2 1-6 6-0.
Juan Martin Del Potro, the only player outside the ‘Big Four’ to win a grand slam in the last eight years, eased past Canada’s Jesse Levine 6-2 7-6(7) 6-3.