Ailing Serena Williams Catches Break With Rain Delay

Monday, July 2nd 2007, 7:32 am
By: News On 6

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Serena Williams collapsed with a strained calf seven points from victory Monday at Wimbledon, resumed playing and hobbled through painful rallies for 11 minutes until rain forced a delay.

Some Centre Court fans cheered the interruption, pleased to see Williams rewarded for her valiant attempt to keep playing.

When the suspension came, the two-time Wimbledon champion was a set up on Daniela Hantuchova but trailed 4-2 in the second-set tiebreaker. Williams limped off the court without fetching her tennis bag.

The injury, described by the WTA Tour as a spasm-induced left calf strain, struck Williams after Hantuchova hit a forehand winner for a 5-5, 30-15 lead in the set. Williams grabbed her calf, tapped it three times with her racket head and fell to the grass behind the baseline.

She remained down for seven minutes. While a trainer massaged the calf, Williams grimaced, then screamed in pain and buried her face in the turf.

She kept playing, even though she hit shots weakly and walked stiffly in pursuit of the ball. But she managed to hold for 6-all, then won the last two points before the delay.

Her sister, Venus, made it to the fourth round despite a performance so filled with errors she drew criticism from her father.

The three-time champion rallied past Akiko Morigami 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in a match suspended Saturday. And she did it even though she faced 23 break points, double-faulted 14 times and trailed 5-3 in the third set.

Venus Williams will next go against 2004 champion Maria Sharapova, one of only two players to win Saturday in the rain-plagued tournament. Williams trailed 4-1 in the second set when her match was halted, and when it resumed two days later she struggled from the start, losing the first seven points.

``If Venus moves up to the ball and takes it off the bounce instead of waiting behind the baseline, she'll be the only one here, including Sharapova,'' said Williams' father and coach, Richard. ``She's not going to beat anyone if she's not moving into the ball.''

Venus saw her match as a positive.

``When it was time, I did what it took. I definitely would like to do what it takes earlier,'' she said. ``But I think on the other hand, that kind of competition is invaluable in this kind of tournament. So either way it's good for me.''

Top-ranked Justine Henin, seeking the only Grand Slam title she has yet to win, became the first woman to reach the quarterfinals by beating No. 15-seeded Patty Schnyder in 56 minutes, 6-2, 6-2.

``I was a little bit surprised that the match was that quick,'' Henin said. ``I was ready to have a good fight.''

Henin has lost 15 games in four rounds.

``I did my job perfectly until now,'' she said.

In the completion of third-round matches suspended Saturday, No. 5-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-3; No. 6 Ana Ivanovic defeated Aravane Rezai 6-3, 6-2; No. 11 Nadia Petrova swept Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-3, 7-6 (3); and No. 14 Nicole Vaidisova beat Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-2.

No. 12 Elena Dementieva lost to 16-year-old Tamira Paszek of Austria 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. Paszek, the runner-up in juniors at Wimbledon in 2005, was thrilled to pull off an upset in her favorite Grand Slam event.

``The strawberries with cream, playing all in white, the grass courts, covering, uncovering the courts, rain delays, rain delays _ just everything is so special,'' the teen said.

In men's third-round play, 2006 runner-up Rafael Nadal was one point from victory when he hit a cross-court forehand barely wide. His match with Robin Soderling was immediately halted by rain with the score 7-all in the third-set tiebreaker.

No. 7 Tomas Berdych beat Lee Hyung-taik 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3). No. 10 Marcos Baghdatis defeated No. 23 David Nalbandian 6-2, 7-5, 6-0.

The start of play was delayed nearly an hour by showers _ the sixth time in seven days there has been a rain interruption, and there were two more delays during the afternoon.

Only three players had Monday off: Sharapova, defending champion Amelie Mauresmo and Roger Federer. The four-time defending men's champion received a bye into the quarterfinals when his fourth-round opponent, Tommy Haas, pulled out with a stomach muscle injury.

Williams, seeded 23rd, struggled with her serve in windy weather and double-faulted for the final time to fall behind 3-5 in the last set.

``I was coming down too quickly on the second serve,'' Williams said. ``So I made the correction.''

Morigami then lost serve at love, and Williams hit four big serves to hold for 5-all.

With Williams serving for the match at 6-5, rain began to fall and umbrellas popped out in the stands, but play continued. Williams erased two break points _ making Morigami 4-for-23 on break points _ and closed out the victory on the first match point with a service winner.

The crowd rose to applaud Williams, including her friend, professional golfer Hank Kuehne. The court was then covered for another delay.

In the second set, Williams double-faulted four times serving at 2-5 but still managed to hold, then double-faulted four more times in her next service game. Morigami needed 10 set points to even the match, finally forcing a third set when Williams hit a forehand wide.

``Ask her why she's behind the baseline 13 feet,'' Richard Williams said.

Said Venus: ``At times I was too far behind the line, but usually when I was really just on defense. Especially here, if you're too far, the ball doesn't come up. I will look forward to moving forward in the next matches.''