Top-ranked, top-seeded Serena Williams staged an extraordinary final set fightback to beat Britain's Heather Watson 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the third round of women's singles at Wimbledon on Friday to set up a blockbuster fourth-round showdown with sister Venus.

    Williams, bidding for a sixth Wimbledon title and a calendar Grand Slam, was on the brink of a dramatic third-round exit when Watson served for the match at 5-4 in the final set. But Serena, who had trailed 3-0 in the decider, showed why she has won 20 Grand Slam titles as she broke back before finally sealing an epic escape in two hours and 14 minutes in front of an enthralled 15,000-strong crowd on Centre Court.

    Serena's 53 winners and 13 aces were just enough overcome her 33 unforced errors in the match of the tournament to date.

    "I've had some tough losses but that was probably my toughest match, playing Heather in front of her home crowd," Williams said. "She played unbelievable and really I think she should have won the match.

    "She was up two breaks and she just really gave her all and showed us what a great player she is."

    The 33-year-old American will face 16th seed Venus on Monday for the first time in a Grand Slam since beating her in the 2009 Wimbledon final. The sisters' last meeting came in 2014 when Venus won in Montreal, but Serena holds a 14-11 advantage over the 35-year-old in their career head to head.

    They have clashed five times previously at Wimbledon, with Serena winning three times and Venus twice.

    "Venus is in better form than I am, so I think she has a little bit of an advantage going into that match. But at least one of us will be in the quarter-finals, so that will be good," Serena added.

    Gritty recovery

    Faced with the prospect of a third successive early departure from Wimbledon, Serena had to dig deep to keep alive her hopes of becoming the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slams in the calendar year.

    The gritty recovery extended her winning streak in the majors at 24 matches -- a blistering run that started after her third round loss to Alize Cornet at Wimbledon 12 months ago and has brought her the 2014 US Open crown and titles at the Australian and French Opens this year.

    While Serena breathed a sigh of relief, world number 59 Watson departed to a standing ovation after narrowly failing to become the first British woman to beat a reigning world number one since Sue Barker defeated Chris Evert in 1979.

    Watson had a poster of Serena on her bedroom wall as a tennis-mad child growing up in the Channel Island of Guernsey. But the dream of facing her idol initially turned sour as Watson was overpowered in the first set, with the American breaking in the fourth game and again in the eighth to take the lead in just 25 minutes.

    But Williams, facing a Briton at Wimbledon for the first time, appeared rattled by Watson's tenacity and the fervour of the crowd's support for their compatriot in the second set. A series of miscues from the increasingly anxious Serena allowed Watson to break at 4-4 and she couldn't stop the Briton levelling the match.

    It was the first set Serena had dropped in the tournament and another stream of errors gave Watson two breaks for a scarcely believable 3-0 lead in the final set.

    Crucially, Serena stopped the bleeding with a break in a marathon 10-minute fourth game and she broke again to level at 3-3.

    Remarkably, Williams stumbled again at 4-4 as Watson battled her way to another break. But Serena refused to surrender and she broke back at the fourth attempt when Watson served for the match.

    That set the stage for a sensational finale as Watson staved off two match points at 6-5 before Serena finally completed her great escape.

Hint of swing, India return to old ways

  • N Ananthanarayanan, Hindustan Times, Dharamsala
  • |
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2013 03:06 IST

When Gautam Gambhir smashed Tim Bresnan's over-pitched ball straight down the track for four, it must have sent confidence rushing through him. The left-handed opener has been so tentative that watching him score runs in front of the wicket had become a rare sight.

When England skipper Alastair Cook won the toss and elected to bowl, the hosts, despite having sewed up the series 3-1 going into the final ODI on Sunday, knew their top-order batsmen had their task cut out at this hill station, making its international debut.

India's top order had caved in against the swing and pace of Pakistan in losing the preceding home series 1-2. In the fourth ODI in Mohali, India took full advantage of bowling first in seaming conditions.    

Pace Pangs
But Gambhir, who had played himself in, had himself to blame after failing to keep down an instinctive cut against off-spinner James Tredwell to be caught at point. That only added to the gloom as a packed house had assembled since early in the morning to cheer the home side at this picturesque venue.

Paceman Bresnan sucked both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, who fell for a first ball duck, into the drive off successive deliveries and India were reduced to 49 for four in the 13th over.

Successive fifties
Suresh Raina produced his fourth consecutive half century of the series - he did not bat in the third ODI in Ranchi - to rescue the innings to 226.

It was not enough as opener Ian Bell struck an unbeaten 113 to steer England to 227 for three, the seven-wicket victory giving them a huge lift as the team flies straight to New Zealand.

Skipper MS Dhoni said: "It was a bad toss to lose. There was lot of seam movement initially. As the game progressed, it was good to bat on." He defended Gambhir's role as well.

Opportunity Lost
"In terms of runs, he is going through a lean patch. But he is one of the experienced openers. But he was not tentative…there is a lot of improvement."

But it was a wonderful opportunity for the batsmen to test themselves against seam bowling.

Having retained the same XI and not given the batsman in form and with excellent technique, Cheteshwar Pujara, his one-day debut, it was all about challenging themselves.

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India's next ODI engagement will be in England, in the Champions Trophy, in summer.

Steve Finn had a marker to avoid knocking down the bails on his bowling stride, after that had proved decisive in Mohali. He exposed Yuvraj Singh's inadequate technique before Gambhir slipped. 

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Raina did not get promoted in the order, but he was in before the seventh over was out. But luck was on his side.

Tredwell, having caught Rohit and Virat at second slip, could not hold on to a low offer off Chirs Woakes on five.

Raina went past 4,000 ODI runs and was again dropped on 61, this time off Tredwell by Cook at square leg.

Chances galore
England dropped three catches in all, but Raina's 78-run sixth-wicket stand with Ravindra Jadeja (39) and Ravichandran Ashwin (19) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (31), adding 50 runs was still inadequate.

Ishant Sharma was the standout bowler and accounted for Cook as well but once the early breakthroughs did not come, the bowling went downhill.

Bell, often criticised for not performing to potential, wore down the bowling and helped himself to fours as the seamers and spinners, particularly Ashwin, offered plenty of loose deliveries.

 

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