Facing the most, uh, experienced woman in the Wimbledon field — 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan — Williams was mired in a three-set struggle that lasted nearly three hours Wednesday, a tight, high-quality contest brimming with the sort of at-the-net, classic grass-court play seen so rarely nowadays.
“She doesn’t play anywhere near her age,” Williams said.
In the end, Williams, a five-time champion at the All England Club, mustered every bit of her competitive drive and considerable talent to pull out a 6-7 (6), 6-3, 8-6 comeback victory over Date-Krumm and reach the third round.
“She played unbelievable (Wednesday). I thought she had some luck on her side, too, with net cords, balls hitting lines. I just thought (Wednesday) was a perfect storm for her to try to get a win,” said Williams, who again wore her decidedly original lace romper, featuring draped sleeves, deep “V” neckline, gold belt and gold zipper.
“Thankfully,” Williams added, “I had some answers.”
None more effective than her serve, in the late-going, anyway. That stroke delivered 12 aces, helped Williams escape several jams and was clocked at 120 mph even in her final service game. Contrast that with Date-Krumm’s serves, mostly about 80 mph. One was 65 mph.
Date-Krumm, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1996, quit tennis later that year, then came out of retirement in 2008, marveled at Williams’ serve afterward, saying: “Not only speed — it’s on the corner. So it was very, very difficult to break her.”
Not at the outset, actually. Date-Krumm won 13 of the first 16 points Williams served, breaking three times en route to a 5-1 lead. The 23rd-seeded Williams turned things around, taking five consecutive games to go ahead 6-5. Williams then wasted a set point, and Date-Krumm eventually won the tiebreaker. In the second and third sets, though, Williams played much more cleanly, and she wound up winning by breaking in the final game.
It was hardly easy.
“Venus came out slow, and that girl took off like a brand-new motor,” said Williams’ father and coach, Richard.
His daughter missed time with a bum hip and is playing only her fourth tournament since Wimbledon in 2010.
On Tuesday, his other daughter, Serena, needed three sets to win, too. After ambling out of Centre Court this time, Dad tapped his umbrella’s wooden handle on his chest and said, referring to those matches: “They’re tough on the heart. The heart’s not as young as it once was.”
He wasn’t the only one toting an umbrella around the grounds Wednesday, when rain prevented any action until after 3 p.m., other than under the retractable roof at the main stadium. After Williams managed to sneak through, fans with Centre Court tickets had a chance to see easy wins for two-time champion Rafael Nadal, then three-time runner-up Andy Roddick.
The top-ranked Nadal beat Ryan Sweeting of the United States 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, compiling 38 winners and only seven unforced errors. In the third round, Nadal will face Gilles Muller of Luxembourg — the only man other than Roger Federer to beat him at Wimbledon in the past six years. Since losing to Muller in the second round in 2005, Nadal is 28-2 at the All England Club; that includes defeats against Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals, titles in 2008 and 2010, and missing the 2009 tournament with bad knees.
“Will be a big, big test for me,” Nadal said.
Roddick’s strong serve was clicking again in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Victor Hanescu of Romania. The No. 8-seeded American hit 15 aces, saved the only break point he faced and limited his unforced errors to six — all with a special pair of fans sitting at Centre Court: his parents.
“This is the first time they’ve seen me play here. ... I think today was the first time they ever sat in a box in my entire career,” said Roddick, who won the 2003 U.S. Open. “They picked a good court to debut that on. I think they’re having fun.”
Other winners included No. 4 Andy Murray, No. 9 Gael Monfils and 72nd-ranked Alex Bogomolov Jr. of the United States, who reached the third round in his first trip to Wimbledon by knocking off No. 25 Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina 6-0, 6-3, 6-4.
The only seeded woman to lose was No. 30 Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States, who caused a stir with her Lady Gaga-inspired jacket that had white tennis balls attached to it, then was beaten 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 by 133rd-ranked Misaki Doi of Japan.
When Mattek-Sands arrived at the court, she noticed a tour official scrutinizing her getup. So Mattek-Sands made clear her unusual accessory would be removed before warmup time.
“I’m not hitting any balls in it,” Mattek-Sands said. “Don’t worry.”