Serena Williams on the eve of her last-16 match against Svetlana Kuznetsova here, described every defeat she suffers as “major international news”. It was ultimately a case, then, of nothing to report. Move on, please. Focus on something more interesting than the champion simply grinding another opponent into the dust.
That may be somewhat harsh on Kuznetsova, who before the rain delay that forced the players to leave Center Court for close to half an hour was well and truly in this contest, even breaking Williams to lead 5-4 in the first set. But after the pair returned under the roof, with the score at 5-5, Williams simply stepped up a gear and dominated until the finish, winning 7-5, 6-0 to set up a quarter-final against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Tuesday afternoon.
Williams should triumph against what will be her second Russian opponent in two days and for neutrals there remains the tantalising prospect of an all-Williams final after Venus also won on Monday. The five-times champion, located in the bottom half of the draw, overcame the Spaniard Carla Suárez Navarro 7-6, 6-4 in a match that was also halted because of rain and next faces Yaroslava Shvedova, of Kazakhstan, in what will be the 36-year-old’s first quarter-final appearance at this championship since 2010.
The sisters have faced each other in four previous Wimbledon finals, with Serena winning three times, in 2002, 2003 and 2009, and Venus triumphing in 2008. The prospect of a fifth encounter between not only the two oldest females left here but also the only American ones after a generally bad Independence Day for those from the other side of the Atlantic, was something Serena declined to discuss after victory over Kuznetsova. There was plenty of praise for Venus, however, with the 34-year-old describing her elder sister as “my toughest opponent”.
At times on Monday it appeared as if Williams’s toughest opponent was going to be the conditions. The light drizzle which followed a gloriously warm start to the day left moisture on the uncovered Centre Court surface and both players were clearly struggling from the start to maintain their footing and balance. It was Williams who appeared to be suffering the more, seen most starkly when she slipped over completely after Kuznetsova swept a shot beyond her to break Williams for a second time and take that 5-4 lead.
Williams broke back immediately and it was then that she expressed her concerns about the conditions to the umpire, Marija Cicak, and the tournament referee, Andrew Jarrett. When talking to Cicak, Williams could be heard saying: “I’m going to fall. Can’t they just close the roof?” The Croatia official’s response was inaudible but Williams was then heard saying: “If I get hurt, I’m suing.” The players were shortly taken off after a slip by one of the ball boys that caused howls of laughter from a crowd living up to its reputation for being easily amused.
Williams was in typically confrontational mode when asked about her threat of legal action in the post-match media conference – “Oh you guys, don’t even try me like that. I have no future of suing Wimbledon. That’s just completely absurd and wrong” – but did admit that before the rain break she had become “worked up” by a contest in which she was being fully pushed by her opponent and required calming down from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “He’s just so sangfroid and that really helps me,” she said. “It helps me realize that when I’m calm I usually find the answers.” And that is exactly what Williams did after the players returned to a covered Center Court shortly after 4.20pm. With the first set wrapped up in 56 minutes, Williams needed only another 20 to blast through the second. Kuznetsova simply had no response to the booming serves and groundstrokes that came her away, among them a 122mph ace, and ultimately the 13th seed may reflect that she should have put up a fight when Williams called on Cicak to close the roof, with the increasingly humid conditions that come with doing so only aiding the American’s big-hitting game.
In total Williams served 14 aces (compared with none by her opponent) and a staggering 43 winners. Little wonder the world No1 was ultimately pleased with her performance. “I felt like I was really dialed in, focused today,” she said.
Next up, then, is Pavlyuchenkova following her 6-3, 6-3 victory over another American, Coco Vandeweghe, on Court 18. Williams has won all five of her previous matches against the 24-year-old, with Tuesday’s encounter the first to take place on grass. Even a heavy downpour should not stop the 21-times major winner, and six-times winner of this tournament, from easily beating an opponent who before this year had never gone beyond the second round at Wimbledon.
For Venus there is a greater sense of danger given that in Shvedova she is facing an altogether new opponent. Yet having rolled back the years by getting to the last eight here and re-establishing herself in the world’s top 10, it is little wonder that the veteran is relishing the challenge ahead. “I’ve been here before, so I’m not like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “So of course I want more.
“That’s what anybody would want in a quarter-final.”