Serena breezes into last 16

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Slowly but surely Serena Williams is easing her way back to her usual front-running Wimbledon position as, even with the rust from almost a year out of the game, she looks to have too much firepower for anyone else in the draw with the exception of her sister Venus.

In something of a damning indictment of the state of the women's game, Williams was installed as pre-tournament favorite by local bookmakers despite her Eastbourne appearance the week before the championships being her first since she suffered a blood clot while recovering from gashing her foot on broken glass in the wake of last year's Wimbledon success.

She had needed three sets in her first two matches as she felt her way back to form but though she still looked a notch or two below her usual levels of movement and control Saturday, she is making a mockery of her seventh seeding.

Kirilenko, one of 16 Russians in the women's singles draw, was appearing in her eighth Wimbledon but was playing in the third round for only the second time despite being ranked 27th in the world.

She was up against it from the start, double faulting on break point in her first service game as Williams, happy to be back on Court One after complaining about her previous exile from the main show courts, galloped to a 3-0 lead.

Kirilenko also trailed on the "gruntometer" as Williams accompanied each shot with a bark that would have made a bull mastiff proud, while her opponent merely sounded like a scalded cat.

Kirilenko managed to get to break point in the fifth game but her opportunity was snuffed out and the set was pretty much summed up when Williams aced to win it and all the Russian could manage in response was a fruitless Hawkeye challenge.

Planting herself on the baseline and swinging without the tightness noticeable in her first two matches, Williams continued to boss the ground-stroke exchanges and though Kirilenko scampered willingly and produced an occasional cross-court gem, there was an air of inevitability about the whole occasion.

After holding serve to love in about 30 seconds in the fourth game Williams broke again in the fifth and eventually served out to complete another important step in the recovery process.

"I'm feeling better, my serve is getting better, it's getting the rhythm that I've been missing, I just have to move," she said.

"I wasn't as tight and nervous and uptight. I was able to relax more today. I'd said to myself 'you've just got to relax, it doesn't matter what happens, you've done so much."

"Well, I wouldn't bet against me," she said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)