Serena Williams was installed as the new Wimbledon favourite after powering into the fourth round, and declared: “I wouldn’t bet against me.”
The bookmakers had 2004 champion Maria Sharapova as their choice to prevail at the All England Club – until Williams disposed of Maria Kirilenko 6-3 6-2 today.
Williams was short of her best as she continued her return from almost a year out through injury and illness, but her title defence is gathering momentum.
“That was the best I’ve played since I came back, so it’s good. I wouldn’t bet against me,” she said.
“I’m still alive and it feels good. I’m hoping to be around and planning to be around a lot longer. I’m alive and I don’t take any moment for granted.”
Williams is returning from the longest absence of her career – 49 weeks – and the American hinted that the foot injury, haematoma and pulmonary embolism she suffered in quick succession had taken a toll on her psyche.
“I was a little more consistent today and I played my game more. I wasn’t as tight and nervous and uptight as I have been,” she said.
“I was able to relax more. I had a discussion with myself, my dad and my friends. I was telling them I couldn’t relax.
“I was always thinking I can get hurt again. But you must let those thoughts go or anything could happen. I’d been thinking I could slip and I wasn’t thinking that at all today. That was a big difference.”
Williams next faces 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli after the ninth seed did things the hard way again, beating Flavia Pennetta 5-7 6-4 9-7.
Bartoli was tipped as a dark horse after reaching the semi-finals at the French Open and then winning the Wimbledon warm-up event at Eastbourne but she is likely to be tired following two lengthy three-setters in a row.
Top seed Caroline Wozniacki produced a near-faultless performance as she eased into the fourth round with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Australia’s Jarmila Gajdosova.
Wozniacki, the world number one who is in pursuit of her maiden grand slam title, broke Gajdosova once in the first set and twice in the second to complete a routine win on Centre Court.
The Dane said: “I served well on the important points and I got a lot of returns back. She was very aggressive. I knew she was going to be.”
Sharapova raced through to the fourth round with a crushing win over Klara Zakopalova.
The fifth seed had little trouble putting away her Czech opponent on Court Two, prevailing 6-2 6-3 to set up a fourth-round clash with Peng Shuai, who beat Melinda Czink 6-2 7-6 (7/5).
It was Sharapova’s turn to be relegated to the outer reaches of the All England Club but, unlike Williams and Wozniacki, she had no complaints.
“It was very intimate – I like that,” she said. “I think Centre Court is a little more intimate than Court One.
“Court Two, I feel like you’re very close to the audience, which I think is great, because you don’t have a bad seat in the house for the fans. I enjoyed it very much.”
There were three shocks in the women’s singles today, led by an epic win for Austrian Tamira Paszek over French Open finalist and sixth seed Francesca Schiavone.
The Italian, no stranger to long matches, twice served for victory in the final set before going down 3-6 6-4 11-9 in three hours and 41 minutes.
Paszek, 20, reached the fourth round as a 16-year-old in 2007 but had disappeared somewhat off the radar until now. She next faces another young gun, Russian Ksenia Pervak, who put out 11th seed Andrea Petkovic yesterday.
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic’s inconsistent form continued as she crashed out 6-2 7-6 (7/0) to unseeded Czech Petra Cetkovska while 16th seed Julia Goerges was beaten 6-4 1-6 6-3 by Dominika Cibulkova, who next faces Wozniacki.
There was success for another German, though, as Sabine Lisicki followed up her superb win over French Open champion Li Na on Thursday by brushing aside qualifier Misaki Doi 6-4 6-2.