A time violation warning, a few spots of rain and the thunderous groundstrokes of her rival could not deter Venus Williams as she reached the third round at Wimbledon with a 7-5 4-6 6-3 win over Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari on Thursday.
Playing an opponent who was not even aged three when she won the first of her seven grand slam titles at Wimbledon in 2000, Williams proved that it would take more than mere determination to topple the American eighth seed.
Barring a loss to an unranked Kim Clijsters at the 2009 US Open, Williams had not lost to a player ranked outside the world’s top 100 at a grand slam this century.
World No.115 Sakkari’s hopes of ending that run gathered momentum when she broke the 36-year-old three times in the second set.
But Williams, who dropped her serve in the seventh game of the first set after incurring a time violation warning for switching rackets, was back into her groove in the third set and set up a meeting with Russian Daria Kasatkina.
Madison Keys, the woman tipped as the most likely American successor to the Williams sisters, powered to a 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory against Kirsten Flipkens.
The ninth seed, a quarter-finalist last year, suffered a second-set blip against the experienced Belgian, and wavered again late on having roared into a 5-0 lead in the decider.
But she managed to nip the Flipkens comeback in the bud and will face Italy’s 20th seed Sara Errani or Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in the next round.
Keys boasts the kind of destructive weapons ideally suited to grass, particularly a first serve that three-times Wimbledon champion Chris Evert describes as a match for the booming delivery of world No.1 Serena Williams.
It was not at its best against Flipkens, however, and she dropped serve three times in the match, although the 34 groundstroke winners she crunched kept her largely in control.
She suffered some jitters in the third set, missing a backhand on match point when serving at 5-1 and dropped serve.
When world No.51 Flipkens held to trail 3-5 an unlikely comeback looked possible, but Keys kept calm and sealed victory when she forced her opponent into an error.
Fellow American Sloane Stephens, who burst on to the scene before Keys but has seen her career level off, is a round back after the 18th seed won a rain-delayed first round against China’s Peng Shuai.
Swiss 11th seed Timea Bacsinszky who had reached the quarter-finals last year, had spent Tuesday and Wednesday twiddling her thumbs but finally took to Court Three to beat Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum 6-4 6-2.
Czech 24th seed Barbora Strycova beat Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 4-6 6-4 6-4 but there was disappointment for 31st seed Kristina Mladenovic of France who lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-3 6-3.
Home hope Heather Watson returned to court at one set apiece against Annika Beck but lost the deciding 12-10.