If there was an extra touch of emotion in the standing ovation accorded to Venus Williams as she exited Centre Court and the women’s singles, it was surely tinged by the notion that there may possibly be no more days in the sun there – or even under the roof. For two and a half hours, the five-time Wimbledon singles winner had gone head to head while conceding 10 years to the sixth seed Petra Kvitova, who emerged from the fiercest of contests triumphant by 5-7, 7-6, 7-5.
Aged 34, even the woman whose power game helped change the face of womens’ tennis can hardly expect to go to the well much more often. Not that she was entertaining any of that talk. “People have been trying to retire me since I was 25,” Williams said. “I’m not getting out. Today I gave it my all and sometimes it’s not enough.”
It was a match labelled the meeting of champions, Kvitova having won here by beating Maria Sharapova in 2011, the year that Williams, struggling with injury, finished outside the top 100 for the only time since 1996. The entertainment lived up to billing, with Williams returning superbly and Kvitova producing flashes of brilliance in between making almost twice as many unforced errors as her opponent, giving away points and winnable games in the process.
“No idea who’s going to win,” the television pundit Tracy Austin had said beforehand and it remained that way for an enthralled crowd until the last couple of points in the 37th game of the match, when Williams conceded two match points with an overdone backhand and found the net on the first of them.
In a shaky first set Kvitova made 14 such mistakes to Williams’ three. The second went to a tie-break in which Kvitova struck early, with a glorious angled crosscourt backhand bringing the first of two mini-breaks in a 3-0 lead. Williams responded once but no more, losing the set anti-climatically with a double fault.
Tiredness crept inexorably in during the final set, although sheer stubbornness ensured that break points remained rare. But the unflappable Kvitova lasted longest, and strongest, to earn a fourth round match with the unseeded Shuai Peng.