Venus Williams, 31, survived a huge scare before advancing to the third round at Wimbledon on Wednesday, downing Japanese 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 8-6 in a marathon three-hour battle.
Five-time champion Williams, seeded 23 after a recent return from a lengthy injury lay-off, needed all of her experience to subdue the 40-year-old world number 57 before a Centre Court crowd shielded from the rain by the closed roof.The match, dubbed the "Zimmer frame special" due to the combined ages of the two competitors, turned out to be an exhilarating display of tennis with an initially sluggish Williams being challenged to up her game after Date-Krumm of Japan went 5-1 up in the first set.
"I just couldn't seem to get a game, she played so well and before I knew it the ball was past me everytime in the first set," Williams told the BBC afterwards, looking exhausted after a near three-hour marathon so early in the tournament. "I'm glad to come through it."
Date-Krumm, who reached the semi-finals here in 1996 before later taking a 12-year sabbatical from the sport, got off to a blistering start, racing into a 5-1 first set lead as Williams struggled on serve.
But a Williams fightback got under way in the seventh game as the American gradually began to roll out the heavy artillery on serve.
Her first two aces and another thunderous effort made it 5-2, before an attack of the jitters from Date-Krumm -- which saw her double fault twice -- pulled Williams back to 5-3.
Williams was given a huge let off in the next game, saving two set points and holding serve for 5-4 as Date-Krumm's precision deserted her.
An imperious service game from Williams -- sealed with an ace -- put the American ahead for the first time at 6-5.
Yet just as it seemed that Date-Krumm's game had gone into meltdown, she conjured up a service break to force a tie-break.Improbably Date-Krumm then surged into a 6-2 lead in the tie-break only for Williams to reel off four points to level at 6-6.
Something like normal service resumed in the second set, with Williams breaking early and holding to make it 3-2.
Date-Krumm might have levelled had she been able to convert a break point in the sixth game, but Williams held and levelled at one set apiece when she broke in the ninth game.
Williams drew first blood in the decider when she broke to go 2-0 up, but Date-Krumm broke back immediately before holding to level. The remainder of the set went with serve until the 14th game, when Williams finally broke her opponent.