Venus Williams has been through most things in her long and illustrious career but she enjoyed two firsts on Friday as she scraped into the fourth round. First she had to go off when standing at match point when the rain of this lovely British summer poured down; secondly she went deeper in a deciding set than ever before, eventually claiming a 7-5, 4-6, 10-8 victory over the rising young Russian Daria Kasatkina, in a battle that lasted two hours 42 minutes.
Coming after two hours 25 minutes to win her second-round match on Thursday, it was a tough 24 hours for the 35-year-old, who can at least console herself with the fact that she now has two days off before facing Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain for a place in the quarter-finals.
“My word, what a lot of rain delays,” said the American, who is through to the last 16 for the first time since 2010. “You never know what to expect. Obviously my opponent and I were playing under the same conditions. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a rain delay at match point. Probably not ideal. She handled it well, she played smart. It was just, I guess, non-stop action. It was like a Hollywood script.”
Having led 5-1 in the opening set on Court No1, Williams was pegged back to 5-5 by Kasatkina, the No29 seed, who at 19 is one of the most promising young players on the tour, a good athlete with a fine all-round game. After a rain delay the five-time champion held on to take the first set but was outplayed in the second and then found herself a break down in the third.
After recovering the break Williams missed one match point and then at 7-6 had another only for the heavens to open. “There was honestly such a roar in the crowd – I thought, did someone faint? Are there rats in the stadium?” Williams said. “That actually happened to me once, there was a rat in the stadium. I didn’t know what was happening. All of a sudden the rain came. I thought, really? But I felt really confident coming back out at match point. I felt like I could take it. But she played too well.”
Kasatkina saved the match point and held serve for 7-7 and both women held again before Williams held for 9-8 and finally broke Kasatkina again to close out a well-earned victory.
Williams and Suárez Navarro are level at 3-3 in their previous six encounters but Williams did win their only grass-court meeting, here in 2009, not that it was particularly clear in her memory. “I think I did play her on grass once,” Williams said. “Wait a minute. Don’t remember much. But I think it was on Centre. It’s a different day, different year. I’ve got to go out there and go for broke again.”
The interruptions of the first week are unlikely to help Williams’ cause, not least since she is also still in the doubles with her sister, Serena. A sixth title here at 35, and having to cope every day with the effects of Sjögren’s syndrome, an auto-immune syndrome that saps energy and causes muscle soreness, would be the stuff of fairytales, even if she is seeded eighth. But where there is life there is hope. “Yeah, bring it,” she said. “Of course I want to win but I’ve got to beat some people before then. So let me try. Let me try.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010