Serena Williams avoids earliest ever exit at Wimbledon

LONDON (AP) — Down a break in the final set and one point away from falling behind 3-0, Serena Williams refused to buckle on Centre Court.

Facing the prospect of her earliest ever loss at Wimbledon, the six-time champion summoned her big-match experience — as well as her big serve — to overcome Christina McHale 6-7 (7), 6-2, 6-4 on Friday to reach the third round on another day of rain delays at the All England Club.

“I know mentally no one can break me,” Williams said after the 2½-hour match. “I know that it takes a lot to break me mentally. And I knew (being down) a break in the third that I was going to have to put my mind in it — and that’s what I did.”

Her sister, five-time champion Venus, also faced a major scare, battling through several rain delays to make it into the fourth round by defeating 29th-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia 7-5, 4-6, 10-8 on No. 1 Court.

Two-time defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, was trailing Sam Querrey 7-6 (6), 6-1 in a third-round match on No. 1 Court before play was suspended for the day on the outside courts because of rain. They’ll resume Saturday.

Playing under the Centre Court roof, seven-time champion Roger Federer swept past British player Daniel Evans 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to reach the fourth round. Federer won his 305th singles match at a Grand Slam tournament, only one behind the record set by Martina Navratilova.

Because of all the wet weather this week, the All England Club said matches will be played on the middle Sunday for only the fourth time in Wimbledon’s 139-year history. The tournament is facing a backlog of matches, including some second-rounders that have not been completed.

Earlier, Juan Martin del Potro advanced to the third round after a three-year absence from Wimbledon. The 2009 U.S. Open champion, who has undergone three surgeries on his left wrist since 2014, beat fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

“My hands (are) shaking,” del Potro said after walking off Centre Court to a loud ovation. “It’s a great sensation for me because I’m playing tennis again and I feel alive.”

Wawrinka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, is the highest seeded man eliminated so far.

“It’s great for tennis to see him back,” the Swiss player said of del Potro. “He’s a great guy, a really good player, big champion.”

Serena Williams had never lost at Wimbledon before the third round, but she faced an uphill struggle for much of the day against the 65th-ranked McHale, a 24-year-old American who has never progressed past the third round at any major.

After losing the first set in a tiebreaker, which she had led 5-3, Williams walked to her courtside chair and smashed her racket on the turf five times, then tossed it behind her.

Williams regained control in the second set, dropping just two games, but then fell behind 2-0 in the third. McHale went up 40-15 on serve, with two chances to take a 3-0 lead.

But McHale double-faulted and Williams ran off 11 straight points. McHale then saved three break points to go ahead 3-2.

The next game featured a 26-shot, corner-to-corner rally that ended with a Williams forehand error. But McHale double-faulted on a game point and Williams attacked her second serves to break for 5-4.

Williams put on a display of pure power in the final game — serving out the match at love and finishing with three consecutive aces for a total of 14.

Venus’ match was delayed four times by rain, including once when she held a match point at 7-6 in the third set. When play resumed, Kasatkina saved the match point and held to 7-7.

Four games later, the eighth-seeded Williams broke to end the contest.

“This has got to be something out of a movie, this is what I thought,” said Venus, who has played more than six hours over two days, including doubles with her sister. “I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a 10-8 set, so that was pretty intense. You just think, hold serve. It’s easier said than done.”

Wimbledon to play on middle Sunday for 4th time in 139 years

LONDON (AP) — For only the fourth time in Wimbledon’s 139-year history, matches will be scheduled on the two-week tournament’s middle Sunday.

All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins said Friday evening that the decision had been made to add the extra day of play, necessitated by repeated rain delays during Week 1 that created a backlog of matches.

If all goes to plan, the grass-court Grand Slam tournament is supposed to have completed the entire third round of the men’s and women’s singles draws by Saturday, allowing for a traditional day of rest on Sunday.

But as of Friday evening, there were still second-rounders in singles that had not concluded — one men’s match, and three women’s. That is because there have been interruptions by rain on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

The only other times that tournament organizers opted to have play on the middle Sunday were 1991, 1997 and 2004. Each time, the occasion — dubbed “People’s Sunday” — created a carnival-like atmosphere, with the normally staid grounds filled with rowdy fans who snapped up tickets they rarely get the opportunity to buy.

Unlike in the past, when folks would queue up outside the club overnight to get seats, the tournament announced Friday that all tickets will be made available for online purchase in advance, limited to two per household, and none will be sold at the box office on Sunday.

In addition to now having a 14th day of play in hopes of making sure the event finishes by July 10, Wimbledon chose to reduce men’s doubles matches in the first and second rounds this year to best-of-three-sets, instead of best-of-five.

The singles draws have become out of sync. Seven-time champion Roger Federer is the only man already into the fourth round, thanks to a straight-set victory over Daniel Evans on Friday. Meanwhile, 24th-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany and Mikhail Youzhny of Russia have yet to wrap up their second-round match, which was suspended in the fifth set.

In women’s play, five-time champion Venus Williams and 12th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro have their fourth-round spots sewn up, but a half-dozen players are still stuck in the second round, including two-time champion Petra Kvitova, No. 11 Time Bacsinszky and No. 18 Sloane Stephens.