Wimbledon 2015: World No 1 Serena Williams overcomes brave Briton Heather Watson

Watson served for the match at 5-4 in the final set before Williams recovered

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The Independent Online

What a contest. What a performance. What a shame. Heather Watson played the greatest match of her life here only to suffer the same fate as countless players before her as Serena Williams dug deep to win a thrilling third-round contest on Centre Court. The British No 1 served for the match at 5-4 in the final set before Williams recovered to win 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

Williams had appeared to be on the brink of defeat when she went 3-0 down in the deciding set and was then broken at 4-4, but the 33-year-old American kept her nerve when it mattered to keep alive her hopes of winning a pure Grand Slam of all four major titles this year. She will play her sister Venus in the fourth round.

“I was two points away from winning the match so I am pretty disappointed,” Watson said afterwards. “The atmosphere on the court was amazing and it really helped me and pushed me. I just wish I could have closed it out at the end.”

The fact that the world No 59 ran the world No 1 so close was down to a smart game plan. When Watson played Agnieszka Radwanska on the same court and at the same stage three years ago the Briton won only two games as she made the mistake of repeatedly going for broke. This time a more composed Watson kept forcing her opponent to hit the extra ball.

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Serena Williams reacts to losing a point

Nobody in the women’s game has greater power than Williams, but few are as athletic and as quick as Watson, who knew there would be no point in getting drawn into a hitting contest.

Some of Williams’ crunching returns of serve almost knocked Watson off her feet, but the 23-year-old from Guernsey never flinched and flew around the court as if her life depended on it.

She defended superbly, chose her moments to attack and showed some lovely touches with deft drop shots and skidding slices. Watson made only 11 unforced errors compared with Williams’ 33, although the American hit 53 winners to the Briton’s 20.

Watson was quickly made to appreciate the size of her task when Williams hit the first of her 13 aces on the second point. Watson, however, soon made it clear that she was not going to be intimidated, hitting an ace on the third point of her own opening service game. Williams, nevertheless, broke serve to lead 3-1 and again when Watson served to stay in the set at 5-2.

The first set had taken just 25 minutes, but by the fifth game of the second the match was developing into a real contest. Williams went 0-30 down on her serve, greeted her winners on the next two points with huge cries of “Come on!”, saved a first break point but double-faulted on the second.

Williams broke back immediately with some thumping returns, but Watson’s refusal to give up on points continued to pay dividends. At 4-4 she broke again as Williams missed a backhand and then a forehand.

When Watson served for the set it seemed that nerves might have got the better of her as she double-faulted at 30-30, but she saved the subsequent break point with a backhand winner down the line. Williams saved a first set point but on the second put a forehand in the net.

The crowd responded with a huge roar, but there were no great celebrations from Watson, who went back to her chair determined to keep hold of her emotions.

What followed was even more remarkable as Watson made two successive breaks of serve to go 3-0 up in the deciding set. At 0-2 down Williams dropped serve after two successive double faults, which meant that Watson had broken the greatest serve in women’s tennis four times in five games.

Watson had one point to go 4-0 up, but Williams, one of the game’s great fighters, won a marathon game, finally converting her sixth break point. Leading 3-2, Watson went 40-0 ahead, only to lose the next five points in row.

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Heather Watson wins a point in the third set

When Williams went 4-3 up it seemed that Watson’s resistance might be over, but the Briton held on to her serve and then, remarkably, broke to love. Watson served for the match at 5-4. She recovered to deuce from 15-40 down, but Williams was not to be denied and converted her fourth break point when Watson netted a backhand.

Two games later, serving at 30-15, Watson missed what should have been a routine backhand. She subsequently saved two match points when Williams put returns in the net, but on the third Watson was unable to pick up a crunching Williams return to the baseline.

When the Briton walked off, rarely can a Centre Court crowd’s standing ovation for a loser have been more richly deserved.

Asked later if she thought it was the best match she had ever played, Watson said: “I wouldn’t call losing the greatest day of my career.” However she added: “I’ve learned that I can compete with the best in the world and I can play really good tennis.”

Williams admitted that at one stage she did not think she was going to win. “Heather played unbelievably,” Williams said. “She really went out there with a mindset of winning this match.”

Venus Williams beat Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic 6-3, 6-2. Serena has won 14 of her 25 meetings with her sister, though Venus won their most recent in Montreal last summer. It will be their fifth meeting at Wimbledon, but their first since Serena beat her sister in the 2009 final.

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