Injured Serena Struggles to Victory
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Despite obvious pain from injured ankles, Serena Williams courageously came through her second successive hard-fought match to make the third round early on Thursday evening. She beat the Italian qualifier Mara Santangelo, ranked just 124 in the world, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. It was a match the two-time Wimbledon champion should have lost by a distance, such was her immobility. But the Italian was crippled even worse by nerves, and threw away what should have been a famous victory.
Serena had a torrid time of things in her startling first round encounter with 104th ranked Angela Haynes, who pushed her all the way to three sets. Of course Williams can quite often play patchily in the very early rounds of Slam tournaments, and it should be remembered that an ankle injury had prevented her hitting a ball in anger for eight weeks before the start of this Wimbledon, whether on grass or any other surface.
So perhaps it was no surprise that Williams permitted Santangelo a break point on her opening service game of the match. But it did raise an eyebrow or two when Serena patted a bread-and-butter baseline stroke into the net. She was obviously moving with less than total freedom and had arrived on court with both ankles strapped, although that seemed to do nothing to alleviate the pain she was clearly suffering. She is known in any case for grunting on every stroke almost as loudly as Maria Sharapova, but in this case the sound was quite different. In no time, through no great sparkle in Santangelo's game, Serena had surrendered another service game to the audible amazement of the Centre Court crowd.
Watched by older sister Venus who had earlier beaten Nicole Pratt for a place in the third round, Williams was clearly avoiding any unnecessary running wherever possible. It permitted Santangelo two set points on Serena's serve, although Williams' fighting spirit rescued both. Santangelo's nerves threatened to get the better of her as she delivered successive double faults, but Serena was hampered too badly. The set was gone.
But Williams would not give up. Instead she came back, trumping her opponent's inexperience to break. But the effort cost Williams too dear and it was only a matter of time before Santangelo took the break back. Like a wounded animal, Serena was there for the taking, yet Santangelo couldn't manage the kill. Williams broke again for 5-3, and remarkably took the set.
She left the court briefly for a comfort break - presumably to permit herself to sob with agony for a few minutes - before coming back to make the most of Santangelo's desperate inexperience. The Italian knew she should already have won the match, yet saw her serve go astray again. Serena hung on for a victory which should never have happened.
Williams is still on course for a likely fourth round encounter with Venus, as both are in the bottom half of the draw. But given Justine Henin-Hardenne's early exit from the tournament, and Serena's painful injury, it is already difficult to see any player who can bar Sharapova's way to a second consecutive appearance in the final.
Written by Kate Battersby