LONDON (Reuters) - An air of calm descended at Wimbledon on ‘Tranquil Thursday’ as Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams avoided the trail of destruction that had decimated the field at the All England Club on day three of the grasscourt major.
After men’s champion Roger Federer and Williams’ two closest rivals for the Rosewater Dish, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, perished during a ‘Wednesday Wipeout’, it was left to the world number ones to restore a semblance of normality.
Williams did just that by bullying her way past Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia 6-3 6-2 in the second round and then summed up what a daunting task her rivals face every time they tackle her.
“I wouldn’t want to play me at 21 or 31!” quipped the 31-year-old, who is looking to draw level with Federer’s haul of 17 grand slam titles.
She was declared the overwhelming favorite for the title before a ball had been struck in anger this week and, after Wednesday’s chaos, it seems no one will be able to topple her.
At 42, Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm will have nothing to lose when she tries to snap the American’s 33-match winning streak in their third round clash on Saturday.
“I just hope I can survive for more than one hour,” said the Japanese warrior after becoming the oldest female to reach the Wimbledon third round in the professional era with a 6-4 7-5 victory over Romanian Alexandra Cadantu.
Djokovic was just nine in 1996, the last time Date-Krumm reached the same stage at Wimbledon, and on Thursday the closed Centre Court roof allowed him to dodge the “nuisance rain showers” that crippled the rest of the late afternoon programme as he completed a 7-6(2) 6-3 6-1 win over qualifier Bobby Reynolds.
Reynold’s exit meant that for the first time since 1912 no American man will play in the third round here.
“The game... is tough and no one is entitled because they wear the Stars and Stripes to win a round,” four-times major winner Jim Courier told Reuters.
The American men joined a host of others at the exit queue.
Along with Azarenka and Sharapova, three other former women’s world number ones - Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic - also slipped and skidded out of the tournament on Wednesday with many of them declaring the lush green turf “too dangerous”.
Australian Open champion Azarenka and men’s sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were among a record seven players to withdraw from a grand slam tournament in a single day.
Twenty four hours later French duo Michael Llodra and Paul-Henri Mathieu added their names to Wimbledon’s growing casualty list after retiring hurt.
They were the 11th and 12th players to pull out during a turbulent week at the grasscourt major.
Despite all the drama and controversy, Wimbledon’s new head groundsman declared he was “100 percent happy” with the condition of the courts.
Whether it was bad luck or there is any truth to the theory that the courts are acting up this year, it is clear that the second week of the tournament will have an unfamiliar feel after so many of the sport’s big guns made a hasty exit.
Sprawling houses around the All England Club grounds that had been rented out for two weeks were abruptly vacated as Rafa Nadal, Federer, Tsonga and 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt all headed home just 72 hours into the tournament.
Their demise opened the way for Andy Murray to finally end Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion here.
A draw that had set Federer and Nadal on the road to a blockbuster quarter-final, with the winner projected to take on world number two Murray in the semis, now looks rather threadbare.
The highest seed Murray can now face before a potential final against Djokovic is claycourt-loving Spaniard Nicolas Almagro at number 15.
“It was surprising that so many top players lost in the last few days,” said Djokovic.
“The fact that so many top players lost ... gives enough reason for all of us to not underestimate any opponent and not look that far (in the draw).”
Asian hopefuls avoided the wreckage to join Date-Krumm in the third round on Thursday with 12th seed Kei Nishikori downing Leonardo Mayer 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2 and Chinese sixth seed Li Na recovering from a second set meltdown to beat Simona Halep 6-2 1-6 6-0.
“Welcome to the crazy women’s tennis tour... she kicked my arse in the second set but I woke up,” grinned Li.
“This has been the worst Wimbledon, with so many big stars going out. I was sad, but at the same time I really didn’t want to be the next one.”
Eighth seed Juan Martin Del Potro, the only player outside the ‘Big Four’ to win a grand slam in the last eight years, eased past Canada’s Jesse Levine 6-2 7-6(7) 6-3, while 2010 runner up Tomas Berdych beat German Daniel Brands 7-6(6) 6-4 6-2.
Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, runner-up to Williams 12 months ago, raced past France’s Mathilde Johansson 6-1 6-3.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; editing by Ken Ferris