A fighting performance from Amelie Mauresmo could only delay the inevitable for so long as a strong Centre Court showing from Serena Williams saw the American come through 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 in the battle of the former champions.
Few credited Mauresmo, who has suffered loss of form and repeated injury since her win here in 2006, with much of a chance in this match, yet for a long time there was no telling where the first set would go.
It began badly for the Frenchwoman, with her first delivery of the match a double fault. Having already held her own serve, Williams brought up two break points with a passing shot down the line, and converted with a simple volley.
Chances for Mauresmo to break back came and went as rain spotted the blustery Centre Court. It was vital she did not let her opponent establish momentum and commendably she dragged the break back. In the very next game, a couple of elementary errors gave Williams the advantage again. Yet still Mauresmo fought, and poor Williams footwork gave her another chance. Mauresmo put away the volley and was back on terms.
Williams attempted to step up her aggression, shrieking her way through serve-and-volley, but was over-egging her forehand. Come the tie-break, an extraordinary point brought the first mini-break when Mauresmo superbly lobbed Williams, only to see Serena reply with a lob of even greater quality.
Mauresmo levelled but was then obliged to send a crosscourt forehand wide to give away set point. She then dropped her backhand into the net and the set was over.
At the start of the second, Williams had Mauresmo running all over the court to break her at once. The Frenchwoman’s left thigh, injured so badly at Eastbourne last week that she would not have played in this tournament had it not been Wimbledon, began to trouble her.
By the time Williams broke again for 3-0 the story was clear – Mauresmo had earned nine break points but converted only two, while Serena had taken all four of her own chances. It seemed inevitable that Williams was about to take her career record against Mauresmo to 10-2, including all three of their Wimbledon meetings. The last match between these two, when the Frenchwoman was in her pomp and dispatched Williams at the 2006 US Open, must have seemed a long time ago.
The trainer arrived to tend to Mauresmo’s thigh in a medical time-out. Williams, with the experience of an eight-time Slam winner, kept warm on court with a series of exercises. Mauresmo would not give in and somehow contrived a break back for 1-5. But she could do little to save herself and on match point she was left stranded at the net. Centre Court will hope to see her again, but only time will tell.