LONDON – Serena Williams' bid for the Grand Slam nearly came to a halt on Friday at Wimbledon. The No. 1 rallied from a double-break deficit in the final set to beat Britain's Heather Watson 6–2, 4–6, 7–5 and advance to the fourth round. The win sets up an all-Williams clash on Monday when Serena and sister Venus face off for the 25th time in their careers.
It was looking like another business-like day for Serena early. Serena came into the match on a 23-match win streak at the majors. She took the first set in just 25 minutes, overmatching the 64th-ranked Watson in every department. But as the second set unfolded, Watson grew in confidence. She kept the pressure on Serena with her tireless defense and the 20-time Slam champion got tight. Watson reeled off five consecutive games to not only take the second set but build a double-break lead at 3-0 in the final set.
With the Brit in the midst of playing the best match of her career, Serena said her mind wavered as to whether she could come through with the win. "It's not that I thought I was going to lose," Serena said. "I just felt like she was playing really well. She just did everything so well. I wasn't able to keep up. You know, sometimes you just don't have your day. I thought maybe today just wasn't my day. Obviously I keep fighting and I keep thinking, Well, just let me keep trying to do the best that I can."
The turning point of the match was a six-deuce game that lasted nearly ten minutes, as Watson served to consolidate her lead. Watson came within a point of winning the game twice, which would have given her a commanding 4-0 lead. But Serena fought through her nerves and did her best to block out the boisterous British crowd willing Watson's charge to victory. She finally broke, stopped the bleeding and went on to win four consecutive games.
But Watson had one more charge in her. The 23-year-old held her serve and then broke Serena to 5-4 to earn the chance to serve out the match. She came within two points of scoring the stunning upset—one that would've not only ended Serena's tournament, but her quest for the "Serena Slam," Grand Slam, and major No. 21. But Watson couldn't match Serena's firepower and had no answers when the World No. 1 amplified her hitting. She was broken and didn't win another game.
Serena finished the match with 55 winners and 33 unforced errors. Watson hit 20 winners to 11 unforced errors. On the clutch points, Watson was better, winning 5 of 7 break points, while Serena went 7 for 20. In the end, the percentages were of no importance—Serena won the ones that mattered.
"That was probably was the toughest match I've played [on Centre Court]," Serena said after the match, citing the loud partisan crowd that booed her at times, and the pressure of the circumstances. "She should have won the match. She really gave her all."
When one reporter suggested he had never seen a crowd so vocal before, Serena agreed. "I never saw a crowd like this either. I think they were really into it. They really wanted Heather. Heather has a tremendous fan base here apparently. Yeah, I've never seen them so vocal. I've never heard boos here, so that was new for me."
While Serena was battling into the third set on Centre Court, Venus Williams cruised into the fourth round with a 6–3, 6–2 win over Aleksandra Krunic. Monday's fourth round clash will be the first time Serena and Venus have faced off at a Slam since Wimbledon in 2009, where Serena won 7–6, 6–2. The two have accounted for ten Wimbledon titles between, having each won five times.
Venus won their most recent match, last year at the Rogers Cup, 6–7, 6–2, 6–3. This will be their earliest meeting at a tournament in over a decade. The last time they faced off in the Round of 16 was the 2005 U.S. Open, which Venus won in straight sets. Serena leads the head-to-head 13-11 and has won five of their last six matches.
"She’s in better form than I am," Serena said. "At least one of us will be in the quarterfinals." Venus has yet to lose a set through her first three matches, with wins over Madison Brengle, Yulia Puntinseva, and Aleksandra Krunic.
Said Serena: "It's unfortunate that it's so soon. But we're going to do the best that we can. I mean, she's my sister today. She's my sister next week. She's my sister next year. I think that's a little more important than a match. We'll leave everything out on the court. When it's done we'll go back to regular life."
This post will be updated.