Those critics who complain about the predictability of women's tennis may have to reconsider. Wimbledon has rarely known a second Monday like it, with both the Williams sisters and the No1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, bowing out of the Championship in roasting temperatures which touched 33C on Centre Court. The ladies' singles draw now looks wide open.
The departure of Serena and Venus Williams on the same afternoon was certainly one for the statisticians. It had happened only twice before, the last time in the third round of the French Open in 2008, but this, arguably, was a more significant setback. Serena, beaten 6-3, 7-6 by the No9 seed, Marion Bartoli of France, had not lost a match at Wimbledon for three years. She and Venus, who went down 6-2, 6-3 to Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova, have won nine of the past 11 singles titles at the All England Club, with only Maria Sharapova (2004) and Amélie Mauresmo (2006) interrupting their dominance.
Sharapova may well consider a second title to be a growing possibility after Wozniacki was also summarily ousted 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 by Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia. Her biggest obstacle may yet prove to be Bartoli, her prospective semi-final opponent, who produced some inspired baseline tennis to outplay the younger Williams sister and reach the last eight at the All England Club for the first time since she reached the final in 2007.
Serena, however, was swift to reject the notion an all-conquering family era is drawing to a close. Having barely played this year following injury and illness, she warned that her opponents would face a backlash at the US Open this summer. "It would really suck if I was here thinking, 'Wow, I played my best and that was the best I could do'," she said. "I can only get better. I can only go up from here."
This post-match summary did scant justice to the sweetness of Bartoli's hitting at key moments. The 26-year-old, who claims to have an IQ of 175, caused ripples at the weekend by banishing her father from the coaching box when she was one set down during her third-round match, in a fit of temper. Forty-eight hours later she looked far less emotionally strained, blaming her outburst on a stomach upset. "When you're not feeling well sometimes you do stupid things," Bartoli said. "Of course I'm not proud of it but it happens."
Venus Williams, meanwhile, insisted her sister's defeat had not contributed to her own downfall. "My loss today was my own doing. I just didn't put the ball in the court, simple as that."