By Clare Lovell
LONDON (Reuters) – Experience wrestled aside youth at Wimbledon on Friday when Venus Williams, at 36 the oldest woman in the draw, overcame a match-point rain break and tenacious Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina to reach the fourth round.
Kasatkina, 19, demonstrated clearly how she has leapt 128 places up the rankings in the last year, saving two match points, one after a lengthy rain stoppage, before going down 7-5 4-6 10-8.
The women were forced off court with Williams on match point as the heavens opened for a third time in the tie, the scoreboard showing 7-5 4-6 7-6 and 40-30 in the eighth seed’s favour. Kasatkina won the next three points using a hefty serve.
“This was like something out of a movie,” a beaming Williams said when she finally departed Court One after the two hour 41 minute match.
“I can’t say I’ve ever had a rain delay at match point. Probably not ideal. She handled it well. She played smart.
“There was honestly such a roar in the crowd. I thought, did someone faint? Are there rats in the stadium?”
Five-times champion Williams appeared to suffer worse from earlier breaks in the stop-start match. Resuming at 5-1 ahead in the first set after the second pause, she lost eight points then four games in a row, heaving the ball wide and long and allowing Kasatkina to dictate play.
But the experience of some 20 years on the tour helped the American shift the momentum back to her own power game and she took the set 7-5.
Kasatkina, who beat Williams in Auckland last January, fought doggedly in the second set.
Playing her first Wimbledon, she employed variety and guile to strand a tiring Williams at the back of court with neat drop shots that the American, her left leg heavily bandaged, would not chase.
Williams’s focus deserted her again and she compiled 14 unforced errors on her way to losing the second set from 3-1 up.
Kasatkina was just a few weeks old when Williams, her beaded braids rattling as she ran, first wowed Wimbledon with a new brand of strength and athleticism.
The power was still there on Friday when Williams slammed down 110 mph serves, punched away volleys and pounded both sides of the court with her weighty groundstrokes.
But the easy movement, bubbling energy and stamina were less in evidence.
She hung on, though, and Williams finally downed the 29th-seeded Wimbledon debutant on her third match point with a thundering return that the Russian dumped in the net.
“When you’re an athlete, great is still not enough,” Williams said. “You want to be extraordinary and perfect. If you don’t reach that, you’re not happy.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)