Luck on Ser­ena’s side at Wim­ble­don

Tops seeds have fal­tered early

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SPORTS - San­dra Har­witt

WIM­BLE­DON, Eng­land – There’s no deny­ing that ta­lent and hard work are the most nec­es­sary com­po­nents to be­com­ing a cham­pion, but some­times it doesn’t hurt to have a lit­tle luck on your side.

Thus far at Wim­ble­don, Ser­ena Wil­liams seems to have good for­tune in her cor­ner.

That’s a sig­nif­i­cant re­lief con­sid­er­ing this is only her fourth tour­na­ment back since giv­ing birth to daugh­ter Alexis Olympia last Septem­ber.

Af­ter se­cur­ing a 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) thir­dround win over Kristina Mlade­n­ovic of France on Fri­day, Wil­liams spoke to BBC TV straight off the court.

“I’m re­ally happy,” she said. “This is only my sec­ond se­ri­ous tour­na­ment back. I worked re­ally, re­ally, re­ally hard and it’s been a long ar­du­ous road. I al­ways come out ex­pect­ing the best of my­self.”

Later on, she elab­o­rated on her come­back.

“The first two (tour­na­ments at In­dian Wells and Mi­ami) were just re­ally just get­ting back out there, get­ting back in the com­pe­ti­tion, which I think was super, super im­por­tant,” she said. “Then af­ter Mi­ami, I just pulled out of ev­ery­thing, just re­ally fo­cused on get­ting right, let­ting go of a lot of stuff and … be­ing that ten­nis player again.”

The good vibes started for Wil­liams when Wim­ble­don took into con­sid­er­a­tion just who she is: an eight-time cham­pion with 23 over­all Grand Slam tour­na­ment ti­tles.

In­stead of be­ing un­seeded, Wil­liams, cur­rently ranked No. 181 in the world af­ter her ma­ter­nity leave, was placed as the 25th seed by the seed­ing com­mit­tee, guar­an­tee­ing the 36-year-old a few rounds be­fore pos­si­bly play­ing a seeded op­po­nent.

As if that isn’t enough of an ad­van­tage, it turns out the draw has opened up for Wil­liams as if Moses was part­ing the Red Sea. Head­ing into the fourth round, Wil­liams is the only seeded player re­main­ing in her quar­ter of the draw.

Gone from her sec­tion are 2nd seed Caro­line Woz­ni­acki, 5th seed Elina Svi­tolina, 10th seed Madi­son Keys, 16th seed Coco Van­deweghe, 19th seed Mag­dalena Ry­barikova, 21st seed Anas­tasija Sev­as­tova and 32nd seed Ag­nieszka Rad­wan­ska.

So in a unique sit­u­a­tion, it will be a mom-vs-mom fourth-round en­counter on Mon­day when Wil­liams plays Rus­sian qual­i­fier Ev­geniya Ro­d­ina, the mother of 5-year-old Anna.

When Ro­d­ina up­set Keys 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 Fri­day morn­ing, it left Wil­liams with not one player ranked in the Top 50 in her quar­ter of the draw. Her po­ten­tial quar­ter­fi­nal op­po­nents would be Rus­sian Eka­te­rina Makarova, who took down Woz­ni­acki, or Camila Giorgi of Italy.

“I think a lot of the top play­ers are los­ing, but they’re los­ing to girls that are play­ing out­stand­ing,” said Wil­liams, tak­ing note that only top seed Si­mona Halep and 7th seed Karolina Pliskova re­main among the top eight seeds.

“I think, if any­thing, it shows me every mo­ment that I can’t underestimate any of these ladies. They are just go­ing out there swing­ing and play­ing for broke.”

If there’s one thought that Wil­liams has re­peat­edly said since her re­turn it’s that mount­ing a come­back af­ter hav­ing a baby is the most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge she’s faced in her ca­reer.

Even know­ing how much of a com­pet­i­tive drive she pos­sesses, Wil­liams ap­pears sur­prised at what she is achiev­ing.

“It’s amaz­ing for me to be out here,” Wil­liams said. “A year ago I was still preg­nant. Then my de­liv­ery took a turn south fast, so that wasn’t fun. But it’s that that makes me ap­pre­ci­ate that I’m out here, that I’m alive, that I’m able to be here and do well and to play well.”

Fri­day turned out to be a day of co­in­ci­dence for the Wil­liams sis­ters, who both bat­tled against play­ers named Kiki. Ser­ena walked away a win­ner against Mlade­n­ovic, who is nick­named Kiki, while Venus left dis­ap­pointed.

The 38-year-old Venus fought valiantly through an in­tense third set but was ush­ered to the exit by Kiki Bertens of Nether­lands 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 8-6.

“The third set was re­ally com­pet­i­tive, Venus said. “It was just toe-to-toe there. I just ran out of time in the end. She played re­ally well. You have to win the last point, and I didn’t suc­ceed in that to­day.”

SU­SAN MUL­LANE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Ser­ena Wil­liams beat Kristina Mlade­n­ovic to ad­vance to the fourth round.

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