London – Second seed Li Na and five-time champion Venus Williams struck early blows for the Wimbledon thirtysomethings on Wednesday with straight-sets wins which took them into the third round.
Australian Open champion Li, a three-time quarter-finalist at the All England Club, swept to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger, hitting 33 winners to just four from the world number 38.
Li, 32, goes on to face Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Williams, 34, and playing in her 17th Wimbledon, defeated pint-sized Japanese Kurumi Nara 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 in a battle of little and large on Court 3.
The American, who is the oldest woman left in the draw, stands at an imposing 1.85m compared to Nara’s 1.55m and the difference in stature – both physical and sporting – eventually told despite the world number 41 breaking early in both sets.
Williams will face 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the third round if the Czech sixth seed beats Germany’s Mona Barthel.
“Feeling good getting into the next round,” said Williams who didn’t play the tournament in 2013.
“I think we both play a similar game, really go for it and she’s one of the kind of players that can get really hot and every time she plays me, she plays really well, so I have to be ready for that.”
Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 runner-up, also went through with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Australia’s Casey Dellacqua and next meets either Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito or Australia’s Jarmila Gajdosova.
French Open semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis became the highest ranked man to lose so far at the tournament when the 12th seed went down to Sergiy Stakhovsky of the Ukraine, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
Stakhovksy, who shocked Roger Federer in the second round in 2013, next faces either France’s Jeremy Chardy or Australia’s Marinko Matosevic for a place in the last 16.
Later on Wednesday, top seed Novak Djokovic takes on Czech veteran Radek Stepanek for a place in the last 32 hoping to avoid the fate suffered by his coach Boris Becker in 1987.
The German legend, who captured three Wimbledon titles in his career, is the only top seed in the history of the tournament to lose in the second round when he was beaten by Peter Doohan 27 years ago.
Djokovic, the champion in 2011, isn’t likely to fall into the same trap as he takes a 10-1 career record over Stepanek into their Centre Court meeting.
Stepanek beat Wimbledon champion Andy Murray at Queen’s Club two weeks ago but his sole win over Djokovic was way back in 2006.
The pair played at Wimbledon in the third round in 2012 with the Serb winning in four sets.
“Radek is an experienced player. He’s somebody that I know very well off the court, as well. We are good friends,” said Djokovic of the wily 35-year-old.
“We train with each other a lot. His win against Andy at Queen’s must have given him a lot of confidence coming into Wimbledon. I always thought that his game is very good for this surface because he has a touch, he anticipates well, he comes to the net.
“He’s one of the very few serve and volley players nowadays.”
Third seed Murray takes on Slovenia’s world number 92 Blaz Rola who is playing at his maiden Wimbledon at the age of 23.
“Hopefully I don’t poop my pants and don’t play well,” said Rola, who will be playing just his 10th match as a professional.
Murray, who became Britain’s first Wimbledon men’s champion in 77 years when he defeated Djokovic in 2013’s final, admitted he knew little of the Slovenian ahead of their Court One encounter.
“He hasn’t been on tour too long. So I’ll watch a little bit of video of him and get a better idea of his game,” said the Scot.
Queen’s champion Grigor Dimitrov, the 11th seeded Bulgarian, faces Australia’s Luke Saville in a clash of two former junior champions.
Meanwhile, 1997 singles champion Martina Hingis appears at the All England Club for the first time since 2007 when she teams up with Russia’s Vera Zvonareva in the women’s doubles first round.
Hingis won nine Grand Slam doubles titles in her career but she and Zvonareva have a tough opener against fourth seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza. — Sapa-AFP