A loud and brash Red Arrows flypast over Wimbledon’s Court One provided a timely distraction on Saturday that allowed the real Serena Williams to finally show up at the All England Club this year.
Before the unexpected interruption, there definitely seemed to be something amiss.
The impostor who had turned up this week looked like Williams and sounded like Williams but she definitely did not play like a champion who owns 23 Grand Slam singles titles.
How else would one explain the American dropping a set against a 133rd-ranked qualifier in the second round or squandering three break points from 0-40 up against Germany’s Julia Goerges on Saturday?
But once the plumes of smoke left behind by the Red Arrows had painted the overcast sky a patriotic red, white and blue, the seven-times Wimbledon champion’s competitive fires began to burn brightly and she screamed to a 6-3 6-4 win over Goerges to reach the second week of Wimbledon for the 16th time.
“It’s been an arduous year for me so every match I’m hoping to improve. Every time I go out there I try,” said the 37-year-old, whose build-up to the grasscourt major had been hampered by a knee injury.
“I’m getting a really late start (in all of my matches here so far, but) all that matters is that I am still here.”
Being in the fourth-round mix means that it is still game on for the record 24th Grand Slam title that has proved elusive over the past year — when final appearances at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows both proved to be lost causes.
Life certainly should not have been so difficult for Williams against her first two opponents this week — 161st-ranked Giulia Gatto-Monticone and Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan — considering they were both little-known qualifiers.
Against Goerges, she should have been confident of victory since the German had failed to take a set off Williams in four previous meetings, including last year’s semi-final here.
When Goerges soaked up everything Williams could throw at her to fight back from 0-40 down and hold her serve in the second game of the opening set, it seemed this might be another long day.
But Williams could not really afford to dilly-dally around court too long on Saturday considering this match was just a dress rehearsal for a more pressing engagement later in the day — to partner Britain’s most famous tennis son Andy Murray in the mixed doubles.
As if on cue, the Red Arrows shot through the sky just as Goerges was about to begin serving in the sixth game.
While the crowd looked skywards, Williams had only Goerges in her sights and cut down the German by immediately breaking for a 4-2 lead.
The trademark roar was back rocking Court One and it was game over — at least for now.
“There’s such a buzz around about me and Andy that I’ve gotten nervous now. I feel like I might have a bit of performance anxiety. I hope I can live up to the hype,” Williams said moments after walking off court.
She need not have worried as the partnership dubbed in some quarters “SerAndy” or “AndEna” rolled to a 6-4 6-1 win over Alex Guarachi and Andreas Mies on its debut outing.
But even after bagging her second win of the day, all Williams could talk about were the nerves.
“This match is so hyped that… I didn’t even want to be in it, I kind of just wanted to watch it,” she said with a grin.
“Maybe I’ll try to get a video of it or watch it somewhere.”
Next up in singles for the 11th seed is Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.