LONDON (AFP) - World number one and five-time champion Serena Williams crashed to her earliest defeat at Wimbledon for nine years on Saturday while Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova sailed smoothly through.
Williams, the top seed, lost her third round tie to French 25th seed Alize Cornet 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a Court One clash which had been held up for over four hours because of torrential rain which saw 45 matches wiped off the schedule.
Serena could have no complaints about an embarrassing defeat which continued a disappointing campaign for the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who has failed to get beyond the fourth round at any of the three majors so far this year.
It was her earliest exit from the All England Club since 2005 when she lost to fellow American Jill Craybas at the same stage.
“Well, I think everyone in general plays the match of their lives against me. So I’m pretty sure that the next match, it won’t be the same,” said Williams.
“So I just have to be a hundred times better. If I’m not, then I’m in trouble.” Cornet, 24, goes on to face Canadian 13th seed Eugenie Bouchard on Monday in what will be her first appearance in the second week of Wimbledon at the eighth attempt and only her second career fourth round appearance at a Grand Slam.
Cornet, who had defeated Williams in Dubai earlier this year, celebrated by kissing the turf in jubilation.
“A few years ago I couldn’t even play on grass. I was so bad,” said the slender Frenchwoman.
“To beat Serena at Wimbledon, wow, it is just a dream. It is the biggest upset in the tournament because she is the world number one and has won here so many times.”
In stark comparison, Nadal, Federer and Sharapova all secured fourth round spots playing under the Centre Court roof.
Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion, dropped the opening set for the third time in three matches before turning things around in a 6-7 (4/7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin, who had never won a Wimbledon match before this year.
Nadal, the 28-year-old winner of 14 Grand Slam titles, won 17 of the last 19 games against the world number 63 and goes on to face Australia’s rising star Nick Kyrgios who beat Jirí Vesely of the Czech Republic, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
Nadal had dropped the first set to Martin Klizan and Lukas Rosol in his first two rounds and Kukushkin, playing in his 21st tournament of the year, employed the same free-swinging tactics to bludgeon his way through the opener.
But in front of a Royal Box containing such sporting glitterati as retired Indian cricket master Sachin Tendulkar and ex-England football captain David Beckham, Nadal regained his composure to race away with the win, courtesy of 41 winners and just 12 unforced errors.
“I’m very happy to be in the second week again after two years losing in the first and second round. I’m playing well, good spirit, good tactics on court, fighting for every ball,” said Nadal.
Seven-time champion Federer breezed past Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 and next faces Tommy Robredo of Spain.“It’s really about maintaining a good level of play,” said Federer.
“I’m physically in pretty good shape right now, a few niggling things always going on right now but nothing really that worries me at this point.”
Sharapova, the 2004 champion, remained on course for a rare French Open and Wimbledon double after moving into the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over American Alison Riske.
The world number five next faces German ninth seed Angelique Kerber who beat Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
“I had a little bit of a slow start but otherwise I’m thankful to get through,” Sharapova said.
Third seed Simona Halep of Romania reached the last 16 for the first time with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic.
Halep, the French Open runner-up, will face Kazakh world number 72 Zarina Diyas who beat Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 6-3 to continue her dream Wimbledon debut.
Men’s eighth seed Milos Raonic became just the second Canadian man to reach the last 16 by beating Poland’s Lukasz Kubot, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and next meets either Japanese 10th seed Kei Nishikori or Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli.
The third round matches between fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka against Denis Istomin and Feliciano Lopez’s match with John Isner were put back until Monday.