Serena Williams won two of the four major tennis tournaments last year. In 2014, she has yet to reach a quarterfinal.
The top-seeded American yesterday lost 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to France’s Alize Cornet in the third round of Wimbledon, her earliest exit since 2005 from the tournament she’s won five times. The last time Williams failed to reach a quarterfinal or better in any of the majors was 2006.
“It’s never easy being in my shoes,” Williams said in a news conference. “But you got to be ready. Just because you lose a match doesn’t mean you stop.”
Last season, Williams dominated the women’s tour, winning 11 tournaments including the French Open and the U.S. Open and losing only four matches. She started this season with a fourth-round loss to former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic of Serbia at the Australian Open. Last month, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza won 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of the French Open, handing Williams her most lop-sided defeat in a major.
“Australia, I just couldn’t play,” said Williams, who had struggled with a back injury in Melbourne and took some time off in April following an early loss in Charleston, South Carolina. “And Paris I played really bad. Here I actually thought I played better. I came into the tournament in better form.”
Williams’s serve let her down against 25th seed Cornet. The stroke, called “the best shot in tennis,” by 18-time major champion Chris Evert, has helped Williams win 17 major singles championships. Two years ago, she struck a record 102 aces on her way to her fifth Wimbledon title.
Yesterday, Williams produced only three aces and had seven double faults. After losing the first set, Cornet changed tactics, using drop shots and forehand slices to disturb her opponent’s rhythm.
With Cornet two points away from the match at 5-2, 30-30 in the final set, the Frenchwoman wavered as a slow second serve was punished by Williams with a backhand return. It looked like Williams was back into the match when she broke on a forehand return winner. Cornet kept a cool head the second time she served for the biggest win of her life. At 5-4, 30-30, Williams changed her racket after she mistimed a forehand. She handed Cornet the match after she dumped a backhand volley into the net off yet another drop shot.
“She lost a little bit of her concentration in the beginning of the second set and I used it to come back in the match,” Cornet said in a news conference, after she’d sunk to her knees on Court No. 1 following her win. “Then the battle was on.”
Cornet plays French Open semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard of Canada on Centre Court in her first fourth-round at Wimbledon tomorrow. There is no play today because the Middle Sunday is traditionally a day of rest at the All England Club.
Also yesterday, men’s second seed Rafael Nadal overcame an opening-set loss for the third match in a row, while Roger Federer reached the last 16 with a straight-sets win.
Nadal, playing in the third round for the first time since 2011, initially struggled against Mikhail Kukushkin, the No. 63 from Kazakhstan. The Spaniard eventually eased to a 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 win in two hours, 33 minutes. He’ll play Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Seven-time winner Federer beat Colombian Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. The Swiss 32-year-old hasn’t lost a set at this year’s championship and may meet Nadal in the semifinals. But first, he’ll face Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo.
Rain at Wimbledon yesterday will force some third-round matches into tomorrow, including the one between last year’s finalist Sabine Lisicki and Ivanovic, with the German leading 6-4, 1-1. American Madison Keys is in a tight match against Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, who leads 7-6 (9-7), 6-6.
Although Williams is the oldest top-ranked player on the women’s tour, the 32-year-old isn’t done yet.
She said trying to tie Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam singles titles is “pretty significant” and that it was “something I’m obviously going to keep going for.”