Having made it through to the last 16 of what is officially called the ladies' singles championship, to the second week of the All England Club Championships, Serena Williams was asked to reflect on the achievement in the light of what she had been through since lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court here 12 months ago. "I'm still alive and it feels good," the 21st century colossus of the women's game reflected in the aftermath of her summary 6-3 6-2 third round dismissal of Maria Kirilenko on Court One yesterday. "I'm planning to be around a lot longer."
"Sort of like you fell off your bicycle and you're back on," her American questioner followed up, a metaphorical allusion to the life-threatening scare Williams had endured after stepping on broken glass in Munich restaurant and undergoing an emergency operation to remove a blood clot on her lungs. "Well, I did literally fall off my bike, actually," Williams replied. "I have a horrible scar on my shoulder from it."
So the younger Williams sister really is attempting the greatest comeback since Lazarus – since Queens Park Rangers came from 2-0 behind to win the 1967 League Cup final with a Mark Lazarus goal. As well as rising from what might have been her death bed, when she underwent that emergency operation in March, the four-times Wimbledon singles champion has also picked herself up from a bike crash.
"I was riding in my 'community'," Williams said. "I was going too fast and I fell. The ambulance happened to be driving by. I was so embarrassed. Everyone was laughing at me.
"This was in Florida last October. I have this horrible scar on my shoulder that won't go away. I had a scar on my face too but that's gone now. I got back on that bike – it was a pink Beach Cruiser – and I rode home."
Here in her second home of SW19, Williams is back on the Grand Slam bike and cranking nicely through the gears. After dropping sets in each of her first two matches, the 29-year-old with the Popeye biceps had far too much power in her locker for Kirilenko, a 9 stone slip of a Muscovite.
Poor Kirilenko did well enough merely to get her racket to the 110mph-plus howitzer serves dispatched by the reigning champion and No 7 seed in what proved to be the ultimate game. Try as she did though, the 24-year-old Russian could only return one of them with anything likeinterest before being put out of her misery.
Williams lost only the four points on her serve in the second set. She might still be a long way short of her sharpest – naturally so, given her travails and her 49-week absence from competition – but the most potent weapon in the women's game is looking fearsome once again.
"Yeah, I saw it a little bit today in the second set," the American said of her serve. "I was like, 'Where have you been?' He was at a party or something. But he's back. That's the best that I've played since I came back. I was a little more consistent and I played my game more. I wasn't as uptight and nervous today."
Asked what she thought about being regarded as a strong favourite by the bookmakers, Williams paused before replying: "I wouldn't bet against me."
In the fourth round her form is sure to be tested by Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up. The Frenchwoman won a three-set marathon with Flavia Pennetta of Italy 5-7 6-4 9-7 having been two points away from defeat. At the end of the opening set Bartoli was involved in a heated discussion with her father and coach, Walter, which resulted in both of her parents exiting Court Two. Apparently Bartoli merely needed to vent her frustration.
In contrast, all was quiet on the Centre Court front, where theNo 1 seed went through to the fourth round with a whimper. Exhaling only the faintest of sighs after putting racquet to ball, Caroline Wozniacki made light work of JarmilaGajdosova, dispatching the Australian 6-3 6-2. It remains to be seen whether the Danish world No 1 can make a big noise by claiming a first Grand Slam title.