LONDON – Twice, Serena Williams stood merely two points from a loss at Wimbledon against a British opponent buoyed by a roaring, flag-waving Centre Court crowd.
Twice, Williams was oh-so-close to the end of her bid for a fourth consecutive major title – and for the third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam.
And twice, pushed to the precipice, Williams regrouped, resisted and wound up winning, as she so often does.
Stomping her foot after misses, alternately screaming in delight or despair, even wagging her finger at fans who booed her, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame a surprisingly staunch challenge from 59th-ranked Heather Watson of Great Britain and emerged with a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory in the third round Friday.
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to win,” said Williams, who trailed 3-0 and 5-4 in the final set. “How I pulled through, I really don’t know.”
Her 24th victory in a row at Grand Slam tournaments sets up a showdown Monday against another five-time Wimbledon champ, her older sister Venus.
“We’ve been facing each other a long time,” said the 16th-seeded Venus, who eliminated 82nd-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 6-3, 6-2.
This will be the 26th all-Williams matchup, and first at a major since Serena beat Venus in the 2009 Wimbledon final.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s so soon,” Serena said.
No match on Friday offered up the tension and drama provided by Williams vs. Watson. Especially once Watson – playing steadily, if unspectacularly – appeared on the verge of a significant upset.
“She just did everything so well. I wasn’t able to keep up. You know, sometimes you just don’t have your day,” said Williams, who lost in the third round at Wimbledon last year. “I thought maybe today just wasn’t my day.”
Sure looked that way when Watson took six straight games to go up two breaks in the third set. Then came an epic, 18-point game that began Williams’ comeback. Watson twice was a point from leading 4-0, but she looked a bit tight, shanking a forehand about 5 feet long, then pushing a forehand wide to get broken.
At a changeover late in the final set, Union Jacks of various sizes flapped in the swirling wind while chants of “Heather!” reverberated through the arena. When play resumed, yells came during points, and Williams complained to the chair umpire, drawing jeers.
“It was really intense today,” Williams said. “I’ve never heard boos here.”
After taking a 6-5 lead, Williams broke Watson to finish things, yet even that didn’t come easily. Williams needed three match points, cashing in the last with a backhand return that forced a miss by Watson.
There weren’t all that many unforced errors from Watson: She totaled 11; Williams 33.
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