WIMBLEDON, England – Absolutely perfect — 24 points played, 24 points won.
Can't be any better than wild-card entry Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazahstan was at the beginning of her third-round match at Wimbledon on Saturday, winning every single point in the 15-minute first set of what became a 6-0, 6-4 victory over French Open runner-up Sara Errani of Italy. It's the only "golden set" for a woman in the 44 years of professional tennis.
Of all the ways a point can be lost — a double-fault, for example, or an opponent's ace; one ball that floats a half-inch wide or long or catches the tape of the net, say, or even a lucky shot off the other player's racket that somehow finds a line, etc., etc. — none happened during Shvedova's 15 minutes of fame.
"Apparently, it's the biggest news of the day: I lost a set without winning a point. Unbelievable," the 10th-seeded Errani said. "She was impossible to play against. I don't even feel like I played terribly. She just was hitting winners from every part of the court."
The 65th-ranked Shvedova didn't even realize what was happening. Not until she was in the gym afterward, cooling down, when her coach pointed out the accomplishment.
"I had no idea. I was just playing every point and every game," said Shvedova, a 24-year-old who won two Grand Slam doubles titles in 2010 with Vania King of the U.S.
Shvedova did notice the way spectators at Court 3 applauded and yelled after Errani stopped the streak by taking the opening point of the second set.
"I was, like, 'What's going on?" Shvedova said.
Now things figure to get a tad tougher. In the fourth round Monday, she'll face Serena Williams, whose 13 Grand Slam titles include four at the All England Club.
"Hopefully I'll be able to win a point in the set," Williams said, somehow keeping a straight face. "That will be my first goal, and then I'll go from there."
She actually came rather close to exiting Saturday, needing every one of her tournament-record 23 aces to come back and edge 25th-seeded Zheng Jie of China 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7. Williams won all 18 of her service games and saved all six break points she faced.
Three times, while down 5-4, 6-5 and 7-6 in the final set, she served to stay in the match — and the tournament.
Each time, she won the pivotal game at love.
"It's good to know that I can rely on that," said the sixth-seeded Williams, who also held the previous Wimbledon women's mark of 20 aces.
"I definitely felt like it was a gut check," she said. "I've always been really strong mentally. That's not going anywhere."
The 5-foot-4 1/2 Zheng watched one second-serve ace kick so high that it bounced over her head. Otherwise, though, she stood tall against the 5-9 Williams, zipping flat groundstrokes that barely cleared the net.
With the American's older sister, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus, sitting in the front row right above the scoreboard, and Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman ("Major fan of his. ... I was honored to have him in my box," she said) there in support, too, Williams broke for an 8-7 lead in the last set by smacking a big return that left an off-balance Zheng hitting a wild forehand long.
After a couple hiccups while trying to serve it out, including a double-fault and two wasted match points, Williams ended the nearly 2 1/2-hour contest with a 102 mph service winner, followed by a stretch backhand volley winner. She celebrated with a huge leap.
"I just wanted to get through that match," said Williams, who was upset in the first round at the French Open in late May and hasn't won a Grand Slam title in two years. "The last thing I wanted to do was lose."
Her buddy and possible London Olympics mixed doubles partner, Andy Roddick, did lose. The 29-year-old American, three times the runner-up to Roger Federer at the All England Club, blew a kiss to the Centre Crowd as he walked off after being beaten 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-3 by No. 7-seeded David Ferrer, but said he hasn't made up his mind about his future in the sport.
"If I don't have a definitive answer in my own mind, it's going to be tough for me to articulate a definitive answer to you," the 30th-seeded Roddick said.
Another American, Sam Querrey, also departed, with a 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 17-15 loss to No. 16 Marin Cilic of Croatia. The 5 1/2-hour match is the second-longest in tournament history, behind the 11-hour, 5-minute marathon that John Isner won 70-68 in the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut in 2010.
"I'm bummed. I'm sad," Querrey said. "But I'm sure tomorrow I'll be over it and really look back and say that was a great match and it's a good steppingstone for the summer."
Two other U.S. men did make the fourth round: 126th-ranked qualifier Brian Baker, who was off the tour for about six years after a series of operations; and 10th-seeded Mardy Fish, who is in his first tournament since having a medical procedure on his heart in late May and hasn't faced anyone ranked higher than 70th.
Winners also included No. 4 Andy Murray, whose four-set victory over Marcos Baghdatis ended at 11:02 p.m.; No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro, and No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat the man who beat Rafael Nadal, Lukas Rosol, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
Women joining Williams and Shvedova in the fourth round were defending champion Petra Kvitova, second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, recent French Open champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone, No. 21 Roberta Vinci and unseeded Tamira Paszek.
Good as each was Saturday, none can say they have ever been as good for a set as Shvedova was.
No woman has.
"I mean, that's stunning. I'm, like, speechless," Querrey said. "You could maybe understand first round, maybe a local wild card playing (Maria) Sharapova, just really nervous or something like that. But in a third round, that's just shocking."
According to the International Tennis Federation, only one other perfect set ever has been played since the Open era began in 1968: Bill Scanlon of the U.S. won all 24 points in the second set of a victory over Marcos Hocevar of Brazil at Delray Beach, Fla., in 1983.
Oddly enough, only once before had a woman won 23 consecutive points, the ITF said: Shvedova, of all people. She took a 5-0, 40-love lead in a match against Amy Frazier of the U.S. at Memphis in 2006 — only to end up losing 1-6, 6-0, 6-0.
Imagine that! Shvedova said she couldn't remember that one.
Told about that wild turnaround involving Shvedova, Errani pointed out that she did take a 2-0 lead in the second set, then added with a wink and a smile: "I came close. It could have been 6-0, 6-0 the rest of the way for me."
She marveled about the play of doubles specialist Shvedova, who compiled a 35-6 edge in winners on the afternoon, showing off a high-risk, high-reward style that carried her to the French Open quarterfinals as a qualifier. Errani was particularly wowed by Shvedova's powerful serves, noting that one second serve came in at 117 mph.
"She served really hard," Errani said. "Hard, hard. It was like playing a Williams."
Shrugging off her record-setting setback, Errani said she figured losing a set that way was the same as dropping one 20-18 in a tiebreaker. A loss is a loss. Still, she wants to watch a replay of the set to try to figure out whether she could have done anything differently.
But Errani was pretty sure there wasn't.
"With a serve like that, with groundstrokes that strong," she said about Shvedova, "who knows? Maybe she'll win Wimbledon."
Williams might have something to say about that, too.
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