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. “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, five-time Wimbledon champion Williams lost to 25th-seeded Alize Cornet of France 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Saturday’s third round in London, the latest in a recent series of surprising Grand Slam defeats.
“If I’m not playing a great match, these girls, when they play me, they play as if they’re on the ATP Tour,” Williams said, rolling her eyes.
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, 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 players understanding how to play her.”
On match point, after one last drop shot drew a netted response from Williams, 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.
Canada’s Raonic, Bouchard advance
Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard did their best to get the Canada Day celebrations started early at Wimbledon. Raonic and Bouchard advanced to the fourth round, setting up Monday matches a day ahead of their July 1 national holiday.
Raonic became the first Canadian to advance to the final 16 in the Open era at Wimbledon since Daniel Nestor in 1999 with a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Lukasz Kubot of Poland.
Bouchard, the first Canadian woman since Patricia Hy-Boulais in 1996-97 to advance to the fourth round, beat Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-4.
Past champs advance with ease
Three past Wimbledon champions won on Centre Court: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.
Nadal dropped the first set but rallied and beat 63rd-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.
“All his shots just started to be much more hard, powerful and more aggressive,” Kukushkin said. “It was like a different player.”
Sharapova trailed 3-1, then won the next 11 games to top 44th-ranked Alison Riske of the United States 6-3, 6-0.
Federer, who has collected seven of his 17 major trophies at Wimbledon, never faced trouble and eliminated 35th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.