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Serena Williams advances to 4th round at Wimbledon

STEVEN WINE | 6/26/2009, 10:36 a.m.

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Serena Williams walked onto Court 2 for her match Friday six minutes late. Otherwise she remained right on schedule at Wimbledon. The two-time champion became the first player to earn a spot in the second week of the tournament when she beat Roberta Vinci in the third round, 6-3, 6-4.

As Vinci waited for her tardy opponent to arrive for their noon start, there was brief speculation Williams might be a no-show. Once that ended, so did the prospect of an upset.
Williams said she was late heading to the court at the south end of the club because she was awaiting an escort.

"I thought someone was going to come get me," she said. "I was waiting and waiting. Finally I was like, 'OK, I think I'm just going to go out.' I'm used to someone coming and saying, 'OK, let's go.'"

The mixup didn't rattle Williams, who hit 10 aces and committed only 12 unforced errors to win for the 172nd time in 200 Grand Slam matches. The only other woman to play so many matches in major tournaments is her sister, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams (219).

Over on Centre Court, the new retractable roof remained open for a fifth consecutive day, despite rain in the forecast.

The No. 2-seeded Williams used her penetrating strokes to push Vinci around the court. One time the Italian scrambled to retrieve a shot in the corner several steps beyond the lines, then stood helpless as Williams hit a winner into the other corner.

Only briefly did Williams waver, with a series of misplays midway through the second set. She squealed in anguish when a poor aim cost her a point at the net. She squealed again when she double-faulted on break point. When she pulled a backhand wide to lose another game, she stomped the grass and said, "Ai-yi-yi."

Serving at 4-3, she fell behind love-30, then hit three aces to hold. Two games later, one final ace gave her the match, and she screamed, "Yes!"

"I don't think I played great today at all," Williams said. "I'm just glad to have gotten through it and go on to the next match."

Williams' opponent in the round of 16 Monday will be Daniela Hantuchova, who beat Ai Sugiyama 6-4, 6-3. Williams is 6-1 against Hantuchova.

"She's such a smooth player," Williams said. "I have to make sure I don't rush myself, because she is playing well, and I think she's moving well. So I'm going to have to really bring a tough game."

Seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva, slowed by an ankle injury since April, pulled out before her match against No. 26 Virginie Razzano. Fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva, a semifinalist last year, beat qualifier Regina Kulikova 6-1, 6-2.

Robin Soderling, this month's French Open runner-up to Roger Federer, reached the fourth round by beating Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4. Soderling lost only three points on his first serve and never faced a break point.

When it comes to hopes for U.S. men at Grand Slam events, Andy Roddick is used to going solo. So he was glad to be joined in the third round by two alumni from his high school.

The biggest surprise was Jesse Levine, the lone remaining qualifier in the men's draw. He upset former No. 1 Marat Safin in the opening round, then beat lucky loser Pablo Cuevas 6-2, 6-1, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 Thursday. It's Levine's best showing in a Grand Slam tournament.

Another American, No. 28-seeded Mardy Fish, was to play No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic on Friday. Fish, Levine and Roddick all attended Boca Prep International School in Florida.

Three U.S. males in the round of 32 doesn't necessarily signal a bright future for American fortunes that have been in decline for years. At 27, Fish is a year older than Roddick, while Levine, 21, is ranked only 133rd.

"I'd love nothing more than for some young 17-, 18-year-old to pop out and get in there in the top 15 or the top 10," Roddick said. "But, you know, you can't really deal in hypotheticals. ... We can't really make fantasy worlds up. You just kind of deal with it and move on."

Still, by recent standards it has been a decent week for U.S. tennis - and a very good one for Boca Prep.

"There's something special over there," Levine said.

It helps that the school is adjacent to the Evert Tennis Academy.

Levine attended as a freshman and sophomore. He played one year for the Florida Gators before turning pro in 2007. He arrived in London last week with an 0-2 record in 2009, and he's now into the third round at a major event for the first time.

The United States has a qualifier in the women's third round, too - 17-year-old Melanie Oudin of Marietta, Ga. She became the final player to reach the round of 32 when she beat Yaroslava Shvedova in the twilight Thursday, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Oudin is ranked 124th and playing Wimbledon for the first time.

"I'm still, like, trying to comprehend everything," she said.