Wimbledon 2016: More a majestic than manic Monday for Serena and Venus Williams
Both Serena and Venus Williams are through to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon after straight-sets victories
It is dubbed Manic Monday to some, Magic Monday to others, but with the two Williams sisters involved, it could just as easily be dubbed Majestic Monday.
Between them, 34-year-old Serena and 36-year-old Venus Williams have won Wimbledon 11 times separately and five times together, and they continued to strive for more.
Both sisters had had to fight tooth and nail to reach their allotted places in the fourth round, though. Serena battled for two and a half hours, coming back from a lost first-set tie-breaker, to beat Christina McHale in the second round. Venus battled through countless rain breaks and two hours 41 minutes to beat No26 seed Daria Kasatkina, 10-8 in the third.
There was also their back-story. Serena’s battles to win her record-equalling 22nd Major had become familiar media fodder. Her exhausting campaign during 2015 ended after the US Open, and returning for the Australian Open this year, she had won only Rome from four finals. But she arrived at Wimbledon as defending champion, with three straight years at No1, and looking fit and focused.
Venus’s battles with debilitating illness were also well documented—many thought career-ending—but she was newly back in the top 10, and in the opposite half of the draw from Serena.
They, along with two other American women in the fourth round, Madison Keys, and Coco Vandeweghe, had reached the same stage here last year: Perhaps it was something to do with the fourth of July. But four of the 16 were Russian, too.
That nation counted among its number two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and the match to catch was arguably the one between Serena Williams and fellow 30-something Kuznetsova. With a rivalry dating back 12 years, they were about to play their 13th match, their third of the year, and they had split those last two.
There was an outside chance, should Williams fail to defend her title here, that she would give up her long-held No1 ranking, while there was also a chance that the Russian would break back into the top 10 for the first time in over six years.
To do so, though, depended on fellow players, the likes of Australian Open champion and No4 seed Angelique Kerber, and former Major finalists, No3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, No5 Simona Halep, No19 Dominika Cibulkova, and No28 Lucie Safarova.
One variable was removed early, as Keys, a finalist at the Rome Premier, began to struggle with an injury during a tight and tense three-setter against Halep. The 2014 Wimbledon semi-finalist here in 2014, Halep advanced to the quarters, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3, where she will take on Kerber, who was the first to seal her place after beating Misaki Doi, 6-3, 6-1, in just 64 minutes.
Vandeweghe was the next to be taken out of the equation as the big-hitting American lost in only 72 minutes to the Russian No21 seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-3, 6-3. Still only 25 years old, Pavlyuchenkova is playing her 10th Wimbledon, and until this year had never even reached the fourth round. Now she awaited the winner between Williams and Kuznetsova.
One of the key impediments, however, came in the compact and feisty package of Cibulkova, who was one half of the other big match of the day against Radwanska.
This, too, would be a 13th face-off, which Wimbledon finalist Radwanska led 7-5. But Cibulkova had won four of their last six, and their last two meetings, both of them marathon three-setters. In Eastbourne last month, their only grass court meeting, the Slovak took 3hrs 5mins to win, and went on to take the title. She was thus on a nine-match run on grass and had beaten stiff competition, including Eugenie Bouchard in the third round, to get here.
She continued her hot form through an impressive first set, 6-3, with Radwanska looking drawn and lack-lustre. But the ‘magician’ from Poland found her form in time to fight off a match point and level things, 5-7, in the second. She looked the stronger in the third, too, but Cibulkova held on, broke to love in the seventh game, only to be broken straight back.
Radwanska had match point at 7-6, but again Cibulkova resisted, switched the momentum, broke in the 15th game, and served out the match, 9-7, after exactly three hours. She would have to wait out the all-Russian contest between two unseeded players, the friends and doubles partners, Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova, which was held up by rain for half an hour.
But if there had been any doubt that Serena Williams wanted to win that 22nd Major and retain her No1 ranking, her intent became abundantly clear against Kuznetsova. The first set was a tussle that took almost an hour, and halted briefly at 5-5 for the roof to close against the rain. But she came out to seal it with a break, 7-5, and then the floodgates opened.
Williams notched up 43 winners to just 14 unforced errors, and broke three times to take set and match, 6-0, in 20 minutes. It was brutal and brilliant, not least in making the conclusive break with three return-of-serve winners.
And no, she said afterwards, she was not bothered about having to play three matches on consecutive days: She told herself, ‘You’ve done this 70, 80 times before, it’s not a problem.’
Only for Pavlyuchenkova, that is.
Venus Williams, already the oldest player to reach the round of 16 at a Major since 1994, beat Carla Suarez Navarro in some style, 7-6(3), 6-4, having made 14 from 21 net points and 24 winners.
She will next play Yaroslava Shvedova, who beat Safarova, 6-2, 6-4.