LONDON (Reuters) - Serena Williams fired down a Wimbledon record 23 aces, Yaroslava Shvedova blitzed through a record 24 consecutive points and Andy Murray beat the clock on another night of late drama as the All England Club ushered in the AN - after Nadal - era on Saturday.
Forty-eight hours after brazen Czech Lukas Rosol turned tennis’s world order on its head by bludgeoning Rafa Nadal out of Wimbledon and 24 hours after Roger Federer came within two points of falling through the same trap door, Murray waged his own battle under the floodlights - this time with the clock.
Wimbledon rules state that Centre Court matches must finish by 2300 local time and with the seconds ominously ticking down, it seemed as if Murray would be left hanging in no man’s land till Monday to complete his third-round match against Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
As it was he survived a series of falls, was penalized for allowing a string of balls to pop out of his pocket in mid-rally but still managed eke out a nerve-shredding 7-5 3-6 7-5 6-1 win as the clock struck 2302 local time - the latest ever finish at the grasscourt slam.
“I was under the impression that at 11pm we were stopping regardless of what the score was, and I think I actually broke serve to go 5‑1 at that time, and then walked to the net because I thought we were going to have to come back on Monday,” a relieved Murray said after speeding through the fourth set.
Time was also an issue for his next opponent Marin Cilic.
The Croatian staggered past Sam Querrey 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-7 17-15 in fading light to win the second longest ever match at the All England Club.
Two years after John Isner won an 11 hour five minute duel against Nicolas Mahut, which featured 183 games and ended 70-68 in the fifth set, a similar battle played out on Court Two.
But at five hours 31 minutes, Cilic achieved his win in less than half the time it took Isner to put away Mahut in 2010.
Earlier in the day, it seemed as if four-times women’s champion Williams was also on borrowed time.
The American’s serve was on fire and she was never broken but she was lucky to escape unscathed as she subdued Zheng Jie’s charge with a 6-7 6-2 9-7 third-round win.
It was little wonder that Williams arched backwards to let out an almighty roar of relief after punching away a backhand volley on her third match point to complete a 6-7 6-2 9-7 win in just under 2-1/2 hours on a blustery and baking hot Centre Court.
It was the same arena that Rosol had found to his liking on Thursday as his ferocious forehands and atomic aces destroyed Nadal’s title hopes.
But 48 hours later, Rosol will be hoping he does not end up being a one-hit wonder as he headed back into obscurity after a less than spectacular 6-2 6-3 7-6 Court 12 drubbing at the hands of Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
While Rosol will now have plenty of time to reply to the 150-odd text messages he received within minutes of jettisoning Nadal, Kohlschreiber was thanking his lucky stars for not having to face the Spanish world number two.
“I‘m very happy that I‘m not playing against Rafael Nadal, that’s for sure. If I would have gone into the match against Nadal, there would have been a 90 percent chances I would lose. Today was more 50/50,” the 27th seed said.
Kazakhstan’s Shvedova will be looking to reach her second successive grand slam quarter-final when she takes on Williams on Monday but it is unlikely she will repeat the kind of run she enjoyed on day six of the grasscourt championships.
The 24-year-old wildcard left French Open runner-up Sara Errani red-faced by becoming the first player to win a set in a grand slam tournament without conceding a point.
The first set disappeared in a 15-minute blur as Shvedova won 24 consecutive points - known as a golden set - en route to a 6-0 6-4 victory.
Williams, for one, was bemused by Shvedova’s achievement.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to win a point in the set (on Monday),” grinned the American, who broke her own women’s Wimbledon record for aces.
“I never knew that (golden set) existed. I was like ‘What does that mean’? I immediately thought, she won all four in a row and the Olympics? I thought that wasn’t possible. That’s the only golden thing I know of.”
Joining the 13-times grand slam champion in the second week were title holder Petra Kvitova, Australian Open victor Victoria Azarenka and former French Open champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone.
Andy Roddick’s chances of winning that elusive Wimbledon crown faded further into the sunset when he was outplayed 2-6 7-6 6-4 6-3 by seventh seed David Ferrer.
Three-times runner-up Roddick has now failed to reach week two for the second year running and with his 30th birthday just a few weeks away, the resigned look on his face at the end of the match suggested that even he knew that his time was up.
In stark contrast, fellow American Brian Baker has been providing the feel-good factor in the men’s game this week.
The 27-year-old qualifier - described by Mardy Fish as a player who “just fell off the map” - showed that it is never too late to mount a career comeback as he fought his way into the last 16 with a 6-4 4-6 6-1 6-3 win over Benoit Paire.
Baker’s tennis adventure seemed all but over in 2005 but after undergoing five operations to fix hip, hernia and elbow problems, he has slowly made his way back into the grand slam fold.
He began the year ranked 458th, arrived at Wimbledon as the world number 126 and is now expected to break into the top 80.
“Everybody loves a comeback story. You think of people who are off for six months and it’s tough to come back. Hell six years, I can’t imagine that,” said Roddick.
Editing by Ed Osmond