LONDON (Reuters) - Li Na’s hopes of a French Open-Wimbledon double vanished Thursday as the Chinese was beaten by wildcard Sabine Lisicki but Serena Williams, the last player to achieve the feat, continued her comeback in ominous fashion.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer continued their swashbuckling progress through the draw and fifth seed Robin Soderling fought back from two-sets down to beat former champion Lleyton Hewitt in an enthralling match.
Li, who became the darling of the world’s most populous nation by triumphing at Roland Garros this month, squandered two match points in a 3-6 6-4 8-6 defeat under Center Court’s roof on a cool, showery day in south west London.
Her surprise exit to a player battling back from injury continued a recent trend of Wimbledon woe for winners of the women’s singles in Paris.
Francesca Schiavone made a first-round exit last year and Svetlana Kuznetsova, in 2009, and Ana Ivanovic, in 2008, survived only until the third round.
Li’s appearance on Center Court was delayed by a gritty win for Soderling who dropped the first two sets against 2002 champion Hewitt.
Australian former world number one Hewitt, still a dogged competitor despite the injuries that have seen him drop out of the top 100, looked set to pull off the biggest shock of the tournament but Soderling won 6-7 3-6 7-5 6-4 6-4 after nearly four hours of baseline combat.
“We’ve all just been focusing on trying to get through here in sort of one piece and we’ll pick up all the pieces after that and put it together,” the 30-year-old Hewitt, who nearly missed the tournament because of a foot injury, said after his earliest exit since a first-round defeat as champion in 2003.
Second seed Djokovic continued his perfect start with a crushing 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory over towering South African Kevin Anderson.
The Serb, who can take over as world No.1 if Rafa Nadal fails to retain his title, won the opening five games in 15 minutes and never looked back.
“I‘m really happy with the opening two rounds in Wimbledon,” he said. “Two straight-set wins. I cannot ask for more.”
Third seed Federer also looked a class apart as he continued his bid for a seventh Wimbledon title and 17th grand slam crown with a 6-2 6-3 6-2 win over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the late match under the Center Court roof.
“It was a nice match for me and it was good to play under the roof for the first time,” Federer said. “It was a good experience and the atmosphere was great.”
Defending women’s champion Williams dispensed with the tears as she reached the third round with an ultimately easy victory over Romanian teen-ager Simona Halep.
The 29-year-old, who wept after beating Aravane Rezai on Tuesday as the emotional turmoil of a horrendous 11 months out caught up with her, eventually found her A-game in a 3-6 6-2 6-1 victory out on Court Two.
While she was generally happy with her progress after returning to action just before Wimbledon, she was a little puzzled at the decision to schedule her match on the third-biggest court.
“I don’t know,” she told a news conference. “They like to put us on CourtTwo, me and Venus, for whatever reason. I haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe one day we’ll figure it out.”
Several other seeds began to bloom despite the fickle weather that had fans reaching for their pullovers and umbrellas throughout day four.
Sixth seed Schiavone beat Barbora Zahlavova 7-5 6-3 on her 31st birthday and was joined in the last 32 by Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic who breezed past Greek wildcard Eleni Daniilidou 6-3 6-0.
Top seed Caroline Wozniacki had a frustrating afternoon, however, as her second-round match against Virginie Razzano was postponed until Friday, as was 2004 champion Maria Sharapova’s against British teen-ager Laura Robson.
At least they survive to fight another day, unlike Li.
The 29-year-old was highly-fancied to challenge for the title after her runner-up finish at the Australian Open and then her crowning glory in Paris, but she was left to rue wasted opportunities against an inspired opponent.
When Li sent a forehand wide on match point Lisicki, who missed most of 2010 with a serious ankle injury, fell to the turf and burst into tears.
Li remained upbeat and said she was looking forward to going home after a momentous few weeks.
“The match is over. It’s finished. After today, I don’t even think about it too much because now is my holiday, a week off. I didn’t even want to think about tennis.”
Editing by Mark Meadows