LONDON – All of a sudden, Serena Williams is failing to stick around for long at Grand Slam tournaments.
Betrayed by her backhand and, more surprisingly, her usually dangerous serve, five-time Wimbledon champion Williams lost to 25th-seeded Alize Cornet of France 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 Saturday in the third round at the All England Club.
“If I’m not playing a great, great match, these girls, when they play me, they play as if they’re on the ATP Tour, and then they play other girls completely different,” Williams said, rolling her eyes. “It’s never easy being in my shoes.”
It’s her earliest exit at the All England Club since 2005, when she also was beaten in the third round. Williams won the title in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
“I don’t know how I did it,” Cornet said. “Just with my heart — and the help of the crowd.”
The No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Williams owns 17 Grand Slam titles, one fewer than Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, but she now has departed before the quarterfinals at four of the past five majors. There were fourth-round losses at Wimbledon last year and at the Australian Open in January, and a second-round loss at the French Open in May.
Cornet also beat the 32-year-old American at the Dubai Championships in February. Still, this result was rather unexpected, given their Grand Slam careers. Cornet never had been past the third round at Wimbledon, and she only once before reached a major’s fourth round, in 2009.
Saturday’s match was halted in the third game because of rain. After a delay of about 4½ hours, Williams was terrific, reeling off five games to grab the first set.
Things then changed dramatically. Cornet began putting shots right where she wanted them, while Williams had trouble finding the mark. Williams wound up with 29 unforced errors, 11 more than Cornet.
Three other past Wimbledon champions won on Centre Court, where the roof was closed and soccer star David Beckham was in the Royal Box: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.
For his third match in a row this year at Wimbledon, two-time champion Nadal dropped the first set before coming back to win, this time beating 63rd-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.
“From the very first points of the second set, he improved a lot. All his shots just started to be much more hard, powerful and more aggressive,” Kukushkin said. “It was like a different player.”
Sharapova, the 2004 champion, was up next in the main stadium, and she, too, overcame a slow start. But after falling behind 3-1, she won 11 consecutive games for a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 44th-ranked Alison Riske of the United States.
As for Federer, who has collected seven of his 17 major trophies at the All England Club, there really was never any trouble spot. He needed less than 75 minutes to eliminate 35th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 and hasn’t lost a set through three matches.
Kei Nishikori must wait until Monday to complete his third- round clash with lucky loser Simone Bolelli, a match perfectly balanced at 3-3 in the fifth set.
The Italian twice went a set ahead in the rain-delayed match but Nishikori leveled twice.
With the evening light fading Saturday, the third round contest was called off at 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 3-3.