Sunday, June 26, 2011
American Serena Williams reacts as she advances to the Round of 16 after win over Russian Maria Kirilenko
So it was somehow refreshing to hear Williams actually praise herself after a victory by that very score over 26th-seeded Maria Kirilenko at Wimbledon on Saturday.
Yes, only five matches since returning to the tour after nearly a full year off because of a series of health scares, Williams produced a performance worthy of the 13-time Grand Slam champion that she is. And then Williams talked the talk of someone finally ready to concede that British bookmakers might very well have been right to make her the pre-tournament favorite.
Asked whether she was surprised by the odds, the seventh-seeded American smiled widely and said: "I wouldn't bet against me."
After hitting 10 aces and compiling a 32-9 edge in winners against Kirilenko, Williams termed the showing her "best I've played since I came back."
"I was a little more consistent, and I played mygame more," said Williams, trying to become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1991-93 to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles. "Wasn't as tight and nervous and uptight. I was able to relax more today."
She was part of a parade of past champions who breezed into the fourth round Saturday, joined by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova, who all were straight-set winners, too. Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, seeking her first Grand Slam title, and two-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who is now 44-1 in 2011, also moved on.
Serena explained she'd been playing tentatively until Saturday.
"You're always thinking, 'I can get hurt again.' You just kind of have to let those thoughts go or anything could happen," Williams said. "And I wasn't thinking that at all today. It was just a big difference."
On Monday, she'll face 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli. Other fourth-round women's matches include Williams' older sister Venus vs. No. 32 Tsvetana Pironkova, who upset the five-time Wimbledon champion a year ago; Wozniacki vs. No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova; and Sharapova vs. No. 20 Peng Shuai.
After beating Kirilenko -- her first straight-set victory in five matches since returning -- Williams revealed another, if less serious, mishap from her annus horribilis: She scraped her right shoulder and face when she fell off her pink bicycle during a ride near her home in Florida in October.
"I'm thinking, 'Oh, nooooooo,"' Williams recounted, as though replaying her words in slow motion. "All I thought was, 'Don't fall on my face. Don't fall on my face.' When I fell on my face, I was like, 'No!"'
Since then, she's been sticking to stationary bikes.
Photos by Getty Images