Friday, April 27, 2018
Sports

Serena Williams' Wimbledon run ends early

LONDON — As Serena Williams began to fall behind in what would become her earliest Wimbledon exit in nearly a decade, her coach could tell something was awry.

Not the so-so serving. Or the bad backhands. This was a larger problem.

"Right now, she doesn't have her usual ability to respond and turn matches around," said Patrick Mouratoglou, who has worked with Williams since 2012. "It was obvious when she trailed 3-0 in the second set. Nothing happened."

Unable to get back on track once she no longer had control of the match, the five-time Wimbledon champion lost to 25th-seeded Alize Cornet of France 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 Saturday in the third round, the latest in a recent series of surprising Grand Slam defeats.

"If I'm not playing a great, great match, these girls, when they play me, they play as if they're on (the men's) tour, and then they play other girls completely different," Williams said, rolling her eyes. "It's never easy being in my shoes."

She hadn't left Wimbledon so soon since 2005, also beaten in the third round. The No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Williams owns 17 Grand Slam titles, one fewer than Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, but has departed before the quarterfinals at four of the past five majors.

There were fourth-round losses at Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open in January, and a second-round loss at the French Open in May.

"It might be a bit premature to talk about her decline, but when she plays someone who finds the right tactics, she looks a bit lost on the court," Cornet said.

"In my opinion, there are more and more players understanding how to play her."

Cornet, 24, deployed a tactic of running Williams with one drop shot after another. Williams, who will turn 33 on Sept. 26, clearly didn't like it and eventually lost the match on a drop shot, dashing in on match point as Cornet served at 5-4 of the final set and netting her attempt at returning the short offering.

"This is the largest upset of the tournament," Cornet said. "She's No. 1, and I can't believe I did it. Me."

Cornet also beat Williams at the Dubai Championships in February, and she watched video clips of that triumph before playing her Saturday.

Still, this result was rather unexpected, given that Cornet never had been past the third round at Wimbledon and only once before reached a major's fourth round.

"I cannot say that I played my best tennis today, really," Cornet said.

On match point, Cornet pounded a fist on her chest, hopped around Court 1, then knelt to kiss the turf.

"It's very symbolic, because it means, 'Now I love you grass, and I didn't before,' " said Cornet, who had been 0-13 against top-20 opponents at majors.

Williams finished with 29 unforced errors, 11 more than Cornet. Two particular strokes let Williams down: her serve, with seven double faults and five breaks; and her backhand, with 12 unforced errors.

"I don't really know what I did wrong," said a blank-faced Williams. "Usually I do. Usually I know I did this, this and that."

Three other past Wimbledon champions won on Centre Court, where the roof was closed: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.

For his third match in a row, Nadal dropped the first set, this time beating 63rd-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1. Sharapova trailed 3-1, then won the next 11 games to top 44th-ranked Alison Riske 6-3, 6-0. Federer never faced trouble in eliminating 35th-ranked Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

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