Today was the the third day of Wimbledon, and it was the day the real drama began. Play was delayed because of more rain, but on Centre Court, where there is a roof, 23rd seed Venus Williams and Kimiko Date Krumm provided three hours of first-class tennis entertainment. Date Krumm's level had slipped somewhat this season, but recently, she picked it up again, and she was more than ready to play the five-time Wimbledon champion.
The 40-year-old Japanese star raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set, attacking the net, hitting winners all over the place, and generally taking a spirited control of just about all the proceedings. Date Krumm served for the set at 5-2, was broken, had a set point when Williams served at 3-5, and didn't convert it. It went to 5-all, and then to a tiebreak. The tiebreak turned out to be a microcosm of the first set, with Date Krumm going up 6-2, and then having to deal with Williams' determination to fight back. However, on her eighth set point, Date Krumm won the set, finishing the tiebreak 8-6.
Serving at 1-2 in the second set, Date Krumm had to save six break points. The long game looked like it might be a turning point--and then it didn't. But Williams seemed more comfortable in the second set, perhaps knowing, at that point, that no matter what she did, Date Krumm was going to drag her around the court. And Williams had something going for her that Date Krumm didn't--her serve. The Japanese player has never had more than a moderately successful serve, and is content just to get the ball in play. It works for her a lot of the time, too, because she is so aggressive. However, Williams took the second set 6-3.
In other matches, one couldn't be blamed for thinking Williams was likely to run away with the third set. But this was no "other" match, and Date Krumm just kept on attacking. The tension mounted, as both women kept up the high level of play that had defined the first two sets. Williams continued to serve well, and Date Krumm continued to slice and volley her way to 6-all. I was exhausted, just watching it.
Serving at 6-7, though, something--I'm still not sure what--happened to Date Krumm. She made three consecutive unforced errors, failed to challenge what might have been a long forehand from Williams, and was easily broken. Williams' 6-7, 6-3, 8-6 victory finally put an end to a match that enthralled spectators. Did the three-hour fight make Williams even tougher, or did it mentally and physically exhaust a player who has not been on the court for several months? In the third round, Williams will play Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who has a very good serve (when it's "on"), and who likes to move opponents around and throw them off of their rhythm.
There was more drama. Heather Watson played beautifully against Mathilde Johansson--until she hurt her elbow. The injury looked pretty bad, and after Johansson won the second set, it looked as though Watson might have to retire. She was bandaged very heavily, and continued to play, but--for much of the third set--her forearm was disabled. Still, Johansson continued to hit to Watson's estimable backhand, until supporters in her box "encouraged" her to go for the bad arm. And so she did, and Watson didn't have much to offer from that arm, which also made it hard for her to serve.
Watson undoubtedly knew, however, that her opponent is not always strong enough mentally. She played on, developed a workaround "feel" for her injured arm, and began to hit reasonable forehand shots again, but she was at an obvious disadvantage. Serving at 3-4, she held at love, and fans had reason to expect the impossible. Watson went on to save three match points at 4-5, but Johansson prevailed, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
That was a lot of drama, for day 3.