WIMBLEDON, England — Two more top 10 talents tumbled out of the first week of Wimbledon on Friday, with Venus Williams and Madison Keys falling in three-set matches. That leaves only two women ranked in the top 10 in the tournament: No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 7 Karolina Pliskova.
Then, of course, there’s 181st-ranked Serena Williams. She’s still here.
Venus Williams, seeded ninth, lost, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 8-6, to 20th-seeded Kiki Bertens.
Bertens, who had three match points against Williams this year at the Miami Open, was able to convert her third opportunity on Friday when Williams’s backhand found the net.
“Just ran out of time in the end,” said Williams, who has become increasingly succinct in recent years. “She played really well. You have to win the last point, and I didn’t succeed in that today.”
It was Bertens’s sixth win against a top 10 opponent in her career, but her first of those on a surface other than clay. She admitted she often lacked confidence in herself on hardcourts and grass courts.
“I still find it tough to believe that I can play really well, to beat the top players,” Bertens said. “But, yeah, today I did.”
Keys, the No. 10 seed, has a game built for grass courts, but lost a roller coaster of a third-round match against 120th-ranked Evgeniya Rodina, a qualifier, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.
After taking a 5-2 lead in the first set, Keys lost nine consecutive games to trail by a set and 4-0. She won five consecutive games to recover, but struggled to consolidate any lead for the rest of the match.
Keys bluntly called the defeat a “massive mishandle of nerves,” saying that after taking an early lead she had allowed her mind to drift ahead to Serena Williams, who would most likely have been her fourth-round opponent.
“Doing well, I felt my mind go, and move on,” Keys said. “I don’t think I did a good job of keeping in the moment and playing the person who was in front of me.”
Rodina had not been in the third round of a Grand Slam event for 10 years, but played calm, controlled tennis throughout, even when struggling with an injury. Keys said the experience of playing as a heavy favorite against a free-swinging opponent gave her additional respect for Williams, who is in that situation in almost every match.
“Even more props to her, honestly,” Keys said of Williams. “It’s definitely been a challenge that I have had to deal with where all of a sudden I’m the one that’s supposed to win and people are playing with nothing to lose and playing their best tennis. A lot of times you just have to weather the storm and play better on those big points. I mean, the fact she’s basically done that her whole career is really impressive.”
Williams, who was given the No. 25 seed for this event as she comes back from pregnancy, again faced that situation on Friday in her third-round win over 62nd-ranked Kristina Mladenovic, 7-5, 7-6 (2).
Mladenovic, who has delivered her best tennis on the biggest stages, had struggled through a 15-match losing streak from last August to February. But against Williams, she summoned the sort of imposing tennis that allowed her to reach the top 10 last year. She led, 4-2, in the first set before Williams came back.
Williams closed out the match emphatically in the second-set tiebreak with two aces, her 12th and 13th of the match.
“A lot of the top players are losing, but they’re losing to girls that are playing outstanding,” Williams said. “I think, if anything, it shows me every moment that I can’t underestimate any of these ladies. They are just going out there swinging and playing for broke.”
Williams said she “was glad someone admitted that,” when she heard Keys sympathize with the challenge of being the best.
“Every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or surgery, it doesn’t matter — these young ladies, they bring a game that I’ve never seen before,” Williams said. “It’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much. Because when I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me. That’s what makes me great: I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”
Williams said that years of trials by fire had steeled her into the champion she is.
“Now my level is so much higher because of it, from years and years of being played like that,” she said.
Williams has what looks like an easier than expected path through the middle stages of the tournament. She will next face Rodina; the winner will face 52nd-ranked Camila Giorgi or 35th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals.
The highest seed left in the bottom half of the draw is Pliskova, at No. 7. She came back from a set and 4-1 down to beat 29th-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1.
Pliskova said she was not preoccupied with the seedings of remaining players, saying that anyone who reached this stage must be playing well.
“They wouldn’t be there without playing good level here,” she said. “I think it’s very open with this. Every tournament there are some surprises that some seeded players are losing. I think there’s always quite big pressure on the seeded players.”
The clear favorite on the men’s side, top-seeded Roger Federer, again advanced with ease, beating Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
The men’s seeds have held up slightly better than the women’s, but five of the top 11 are out. Sam Querrey, the 11th seed, had reached the semifinals here last year and the quarterfinals the year before, but lost, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, to Gaël Monfils on Centre Court.
Around the same time, another top man survived an upset bid on No. 1 Court with help from a change in conditions. Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev had trailed in sets, 2-1, when his match against Taylor Fritz was suspended because of darkness on Thursday. But Zverev lost only three games in the resumption on Friday afternoon, winning, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (0), 6-1, 6-2.
“Conditions were very different,” Fritz said. “Playing at night, the ball was moving slower; no wind, no sun. The conditions were just different, and I just wasn’t well adjusted.”
The losses by Querrey and Fritz started the United States men off on a rough foot on Friday, but two Americans won later to book spots in the fourth round. Mackenzie McDonald, ranked 103rd, beat Guido Pella of Argentina, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (6). Pella had upset third-seeded Marin Cilic on Thursday.
McDonald, 23, who was a college champion at U.C.L.A., was joined in the fourth round by John Isner.
Isner rolled past 98th-ranked Radu Albot, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, to reach the second week of Wimbledon for the first time in 10 appearances.
Isner, seeded ninth, is the highest-ranked man left in his quarter of the draw. He next faces 31st-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I certainly embrace this position,” Isner said. “I’m seeded ninth for a reason, so I think I can definitely do better than the round of 16. But it all starts on Monday because I have a very, very tough match.”
Only Serena Williams will represent the United States in women’s singles in the second week of the tournament, but the American men could have three if Frances Tiafoe prevails on Saturday against Karen Khachanov.
That more American men than women will reach the second week of Wimbledon is anomalous, given recent results.
“Trying to catch up to the women,” Isner said. “They are stellar, the American women. So, trying to get to their level.”
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