London — It’s hard to blame Serena Williams for having some trouble keeping track of all of her many titles at the All England Club.
“I don’t necessarily have to win another Wimbledon in my career,” she was saying Friday, making a point about not having anything left to prove, “(because) I won — was it six times?”
Um, no, Serena. It’s seven. And the way things are looking at the moment, that count could rise to No. 8 in a little more than a week. Not only is she playing like, well, her most capable self, smacking 13 aces while beating Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 7-6 (2) for a third consecutive straight-set victory, but also the other proven contenders keep losing while she just keeps on keeping on.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Williams said. “I haven’t had any problems yet.”
She is now the only woman left in the draw who has won the trophy at the All England Club, after her older sister, five-time champion Venus, lost to No. 20 Kiki Bertens 6-2, 6-7 (5), 8-6 on Friday, joining defending champion Garbine Muguruza, two-time winner Petra Kvitova and 2004 champ Maria Sharapova as Week 1 departures.
And the number of remaining top-10 seeds is down to two after No. 9 Venus and No. 10 Madison Keys — beaten 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 Friday by Evgeniya Rodina, a qualifier ranked only 120th — were sent home. Only No. 1 Simona Halep, who plays her third-round match Saturday, and No. 7 Karolina Pliskova, a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 winner against No. 29 Mihaela Buzarnescu — are still around from the top 10.
The men have had some upsets, too, but far fewer, and eight-time champion Roger Federer continued his easy progress through the draw by running his Wimbledon streak to 29 consecutive sets. No. 8 Kevin Anderson and No. 9 John Isner — the highest-ranked American man, he’d never before reached the fourth round at the grass-court major — won in straight sets, while No. 11 Sam Querrey of the U.S. was eliminated 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 by Gael Monfils of France. Isner next plays No. 31 Stefanos Tsitsipas, the first Greek man into the round of 16 at a Grand Slam tournament in the 50-year professional era.
Serena was seeded 25th by the All England Club, a bump from her current ranking of 181st, a spot owing to her time away from the game. This is only the fourth tournament of her return after giving birth last September.
It all adds up to an easier path for Serena, who couldn’t possibly face a seeded player earlier than the semifinals.
Next up for her on Monday is Rodina in a matchup between two mothers.
“Serena,” Rodina said, “is my idol.”
Plenty of players look up to her. Plenty are in awe when they stand on the other side of a net from her.
Plenty do whatever they can to try to beat her, knowing it’ll usually take something special to do that.
“I mean, it just gives even more props to her, honestly,” said Keys, the U.S. Open runner-up last year and a French Open semifinalist last month. “It’s definitely been a challenge that I have had to deal with, where all of a sudden, I’m the one that’s supposed to win and people are playing with nothing to lose and playing their best tennis. A lot of times you just have to weather the storm and play better on those big points, and, I mean, the fact she’s basically done that her whole career is really impressive.”
To the tune of 23 Grand Slam singles championships. (Psst, Serena. That’s 23, in all.)
Serena herself is well aware that she tends to get opponents’ best.
“Every single match I play — whether I’m coming back from a baby or surgery, it doesn’t matter — these young ladies, they bring a game that I’ve never seen before,” she said. “It’s interesting, because I don’t even scout as much, because when I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me. That’s what makes me great: I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”
Venus, at 38 the oldest woman in the tournament, often has dealt with that same phenomenon.
During this edition of Wimbledon, she dropped the opening set in the first round, then came back to win. Followed that exact same pattern in the second round, too. But in the third, she couldn’t quite pull off that same trick. Came close, though, even erasing a pair of match points in the final game.
Bertens acknowledged that she thought back to her previous meeting against Venus, at the Miami Open in March. That time, Bertens wasted three match points and lost.
“Of course, that was going (though) my mind sometimes,” Bertens said. “But I was (thinking), ‘OK, just keep going for it.’”
On Berten’s third chance to close it out Friday, Venus put a backhand into the net.
“Just ran out of time in the end,” said Venus, last year’s runner-up. “It was just toe-to-toe there.”