Former champions Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams took drastically different routes into the Wimbledon third round yesterday.
Top seed Sharapova, the 2004 champion, had to dig deep to clinch a gritty 7-6 (7/3), 6-7 (3/7), 6-0 victory over Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, a semi-finalist in 2010 and quarter-finalist last year.
Sharapova, playing her first tournament since her maiden French Open triumph, had recovered from 5-2 down to take the first set and had just broken to move 3-1 ahead when the tie was suspended due to bad light on Wednesday evening.
On the resumption, Pironkova belied her ranking of world No. 38 to level the tie as the crowd sensed an upset.
It was the first set the 24-year-old had snatched from the Russian in four meetings, but Sharapova took her three-set record for this year to a perfect nine from nine by racing through the decider.
“I started so slow today, but I guess it’s more important how you finish,” Sharapova said after sweating for more than two hours. “She loves playing on grass and came out firing. I was a bit tentative and just couldn’t get much rhythm, but I tried to focus on my game and I’m happy I really stepped it up in that third set.”
Four-time champion Williams reached the third round with a 6-1, 6-4 demolition of Hungarian qualifier Melinda Czink.
Sixth seed Williams faces Chinese 25th seed Zheng Jie, whom she beat in the 2008 semi-finals, for a place in the last 16.
Kei Nishikori, the 19th seed, became the first Japanese man to reach the third round for 17 years by beating France’s Florent Serra 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
Nishikori had already made history earlier this year when he became the first Japanese man to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals in 80 years.
Now the 22-year-old has emulated Shuzo Matsuoka’s Wimbledon run to the last 32 back in 1995. Matsuoka went on to reach the quarter-finals, where he lost to Pete Sampras.
In the women’s doubles yesterday, Taiwan’s Chan Yung-jan and Chan Hao-ching were defeated 6-4, 6-4 by Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the Wimbledon third round on Wednesday as Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei made the third round in the women’s singles, and the women’s draw was blown wide open with the shock exits of three top seeds.
World No. 1 Djokovic defeated the US’ Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 under the center court roof in a match that finished just before 10pm.
The Serb next tackles either Czech 28th seed Radek Stepanek or Benjamin Becker of Germany.
Hsieh beat France’s Stephanie Foretz Gacon in straight sets 6-4, 6-1 in the second round of the women’s singles. Hsieh, currently ranked world No. 63, not only put in her best singles performance at Wimbledon, but also became the first Taiwanese woman to get to the final 32 in the singles category of the prestigious tournament.
Hsieh will next face Sharapova.
Hsieh said she “was proud of and excited about her performance in a field of strong competitors.”
Hsieh also said she was not content to just enter the final 32 and will strive for an even better performance. Hsieh is making her fourth appearance in the women’s singles at Wimbledon — her first since 2008, when she made it to the second round.
The bottom half of the women’s draw opened up with fifth-seeded US Open champion Samantha Stosur and seventh-seeded Caroline Wozniacki both knocked out.