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Wimbledon: Serena Williams’ next opponent wins perfect set

Mugshot

Serena Williams reacts to a point against Zheng Jie during a third-round women’s singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, England, on Saturday, June 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

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.

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