LONDON (Reuters) - A woman who once fumed she “needed a helicopter” to go on a Wimbledon court she called a “parking lot” could not have been happier with her surroundings on Saturday as Jelena Jankovic sent holder Petra Kvitova spinning out.
A tournament still reeling from the second-round exit of Rafa Nadal 48 hours earlier, and the near-exit of Serena Williams 24 hours ago, suffered its biggest shock of this year’s championships as Jankovic emerged from the tennis wilderness to deliver the most unexpected of knockout punches.
The Serbian, who had fallen in the opening round at three of the four previous grand slams, announced her return to the big stage with a heart-stopping 3-6 7-5 6-4 third-round victory over the second-seeded Czech that left Centre Court buzzing.
“Oh my God! I am overwhelmed and so excited. My heart is still pumping,” said the 28th seed whose reign as world number one in 2008 feels like a lifetime ago.
“I have played so poorly the last couple of years and playing on Centre Court against the defending champion was unbelievable. The crowd was really great.
“Playing on grass is so difficult for me, it does not come naturally. I’m glad I was able to win against a two-time Wimbledon champion. It was amazing.”
While Jankovic was rolling on to her back in delight, and showed her appreciation to the crowd by shaping a heart with her fingers, the men’s favorites made serene progress.
A 147 mph howitzer that whistled past Roger Federer’s ears provided one of the few hair-raising moments in the men’s draw when grand slam champions old and new safely planted themselves into the second week of the championships.
Sam Groth bombarded Federer’s half of the court with 21 aces, and one missile clocked a fraction short of Taylor Dent’s 2010 Wimbledon record of 148 mph, but it takes more than a “freaky serve” to flatten a seven-times Wimbledon champion.
In fact the Australian did not even come close to earning a break point as Federer eased into week two for the 12th time in 13 years with a 6-4 6-4 6-7(5) 6-2 third-round victory.
“I’ve played three matches now, no breaks faced, it’s great,” summed up the 17-times grand slam champion.
Andy Murray also dropped his first set at this year’s event and needed on-court treatment for a sore shoulder before advancing to a fourth round showdown with big-serving Ivo Karlovic with a 6-2 6-2 1-6 6-1 win.
Joining them in the fourth round was the newest member of the grand slam club, U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic.
But, unlike Federer, the Croatian ninth seed had to face loads of breaks as he survived his second successive five-set thriller at Wimbledon.
A match between two missile-serving giants had the potential to go on and on, but luckily for Cilic he only needed 15 minutes and two games on Saturday to complete a 7-6(4) 6-7(6) 6-4 6-7(4) 12-10 win over John Isner that was suspended at 10-10 on Friday.
A contest that had featured 437 points, 159 winners and 72 aces, ended tamely with an Isner double fault after four hours 31 minutes.
“It sucks,” summed up the American loser.
Dustin Brown and his waist-length dancing dreadlocks also took their final bow at Wimbledon as Nadal’s conqueror was beaten 6-4 7-6(3) 4-6 6-3 by Serbia’s Viktor Troicki.
Karlovic hurled down 41 aces in a 7-6(3) 4-6 7-6(2) 7-6(9) win over French 13th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
However, it was Kvitova’s sensational demise that appeared to flummox everyone, including the 2014 champion.
“I’m not really sure what happened out there,” said the left-hander.
No one saw the defeat coming after Kvitova had whipped her first two opponents for the loss of just three games in total.
But Jankovic produced the kind of shots not seen from her racket since she ruled tennis all those years ago and stormed back from a set and 4-2 down to pull off the most improbable of victories when Kvitova whacked a backhand into the net.
It was little wonder that a woman who was left angry seven years ago when as the second seed she was forced to play on Court 18 could not stop grinning on Saturday.
“I cannot stop smiling. It’s a really big win for me, especially playing on Centre Court,” she said.
“I just beat a defending champion. It’s unbelievable.”
Editing by Ken Ferris