Clay-loving Kiki Bertens found her feet on grass to make the fourth round of Wimbledon with an epic upset of illustrious former champion Venus Williams.
Alex Macpherson
July 6, 2018

LONDON, Great Britain - Yet another illustrious name was eliminated from Wimbledon before the end of the first week as No.20 seed Kiki Bertens upset No.9 seed Venus Williams in a big-hitting, two-hour, 39-minute 6-2, 6-7(5), 8-6 epic.

The last time the pair played, the American saved three match points to defeat Bertens 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in the third round of Miami in March - but this time, the 26-year-old was able to close the seven-time Grand Slam champion out of the third match point.

Bertens becomes the first Dutchwoman to make the second week at SW19 since Michaella Krajicek's quarterfinal run in 2006 - and marks the first time she has gone past the third round at a major outside of Roland Garros.

Bertens, a French Open semifinalist in 2016 and a five-time titlist on clay, has become known as something of a terre battue specialist in recent years; before today, she had never beaten a Top 10 opponent on any other surface. This result, though, means that only two of Wimbledon's Top 10 seeds remain at the end of the first week - World No.1 Simona Halep and No.7 Karolina Pliskova.

However, the Charleston champion had also pushed Williams to the brink in their previous encounter on the hard courts of Miami, holding three match points before falling in a 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 epic - and in her dominant second-round win over Anna Blinkova on Wednesday, appeared to have found a new level of comfort on grass.

By contrast, five-time champion Williams has made a habit of slow starts this week, dropping the opening set to both Johanna Larsson in the first round and qualifier Alexandra Dulgheru in the second round. That pattern repeated today: the American's 54% first serve percentage in the first set was a problem, and she would fail to hold serve in the opening stanza, but her forehand had also gone alarmingly astray and would offer up nine unforced errors in the first set alone.

Bertens, meanwhile, was once again demonstrating that she has gotten to grips with a surface that has never hitherto rewarded her topspin-heavy game. Her booming serve and power from the back of the court were still effective, but even more impressive was the Dutch No.1's grasp of the nuances of the surface. A brilliant mid-court reflex of a full-power Williams backhand showcased Bertens' soft hands and paved the way to a 3-0 double break lead; confident net play was followed by a deft get to consolidate another break in the second set.

The 38-year-old Williams would raise her level in the second set, but seemed unable to take advantage of any pieces of momentum that came her way. A patiently constructed point ending with an excellent inside-out forehand gave her a toehold in Bertens' service game at 2-4; Williams followed it with two cheap errors off the same wing. Two games later, the former World No.1 played her finest return game of the match to draw level at 4-4 - and then immediately dropped her own serve to love, ending with her third double fault.

Williams persisted in battling though, and broke her opponent once more to stay alive. As the quality rose towards the end of the set, last year's runner-up summoned up some pinpoint serving and nailed two key volleys to dominate the tiebreak and force a decider.

There, Williams's glorious spell of form continued - now including her forehand, which returned with a vengeance to break Bertens in the first game. Now, it was the 26-year-old's turn to produce some of her best tennis to cling on to the match - and, hitting as big as she had all match, produced a run of scorching winners to pull the score back to 2-2.

Both players were now largely holding comfortably as the set progressed towards overtime, although it was Bertens who was carving out more opportunities for herself: Williams had to save two break points serving at 3-4 and dig herself out of a 0-30 hole, enabled by her seventh double fault, at 5-6.

But two games later, Bertens hit through her nerves to finally reach match point for the first time. Williams would save two in stunning fashion, one with a leaping forehand volley and another by turning defence into offence with her now-formidable forehand, but sent a backhand into the net on the third - sealing just her sixth ever first-week exit from Wimbledon.

Bertens' reward is a fourth-round tie with either No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova or No.29 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu - and a first Wimbledon quarterfinal would be at stake for all of them.