London: It was not quite a Jill Craybas moment for Serena Williams at a soggy Wimbledon on Saturday but her third round defeat by Frenchwoman Alize Cornet was shocking all the same.
Just as when she was beaten by obscure fellow American Craybas at the same stage in 2005, no one saw it coming.
Especially when, after a frustrating four-hour rain interruption, the 32-year-old five-time champion returned to Court Two in the early evening to romp through an opening set that lasted only 29 minutes.
Victory for the top seed and most people’s pre-tournament favourite looked a formality, but Cornet, the world No. 24, had other ideas and began a stirring fight back to claim a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory — her second over Serena this year.
Serena seemed as mystified as everybody after the defeat, which came a round before last year’s exit to Sabine Lisicki and a day after sister Venus went out against former champion Petra Kvitova, meaning neither sister has reached the second week of the singles for the first time in eight years.
“Right now I don’t really know what went wrong,” Serena told reporters. “Usually I do. Usually I know I did this and that. I have a few ideas, but this will be a really good one for me to kind of like assess and figure out.”
With desperation in her eyes, Serena roared in Cornet’s direction after saving a break point in the opening game of the third set but she dropped serve at 2-2 in the decider and quickly went 5-2 down before mounting a fightback.
When Cornet, who had never beaten a top-20 player in a Grand Slam, served for the match at 5-4 it seemed inevitable that her nerve would fail her. But just like the 30-year-old Craybas nearly a decade ago, she seized her chances.
Instead, it was Serena who cracked, bungling a dreadful volley into the net to give Cornet a match point and then missing a passing shot to bow out.
Rather than scold herself, however, Serena said Cornet had raised her game.
“I think everyone in general plays the match of their lives against me,” she said. “So I’m pretty sure that the next match, it won’t be the same.
“I just have to always, every time I step on the court, be a hundred times better. If I’m not, then I’m in trouble.
“These girls, when they play me, they play as if they’re on the ATP Tour, and then they play other girls completely different. It’s never easy, you know, being in my shoes. It’s tough to be me. But you got to be ready.”