- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2011

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND (AP) - After 15 years of coming to the All England Club, Venus Williams knows what it takes to pull out a tough match on the biggest stage in tennis.

Even though she only returned to tournament play last week after a five-month layoff with a hip injury, the 31-year-old Williams summoned all her experience and big-point savvy to rally for a three-set Centre Court victory that kept her in contention for a sixth Wimbledon title.

“In terms of feeling age, I definitely feel the experience of it all, and I think that’s huge for me,” Williams said after overcoming 40-year-old Japanese player Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-7 (6), 6-3, 8-6 in nearly three hours on Wednesday to move into the third round.

“The experience is very important on the court, because that’s what really gets you to the win besides the skill and everything else. If anything, that’s definitely an advantage.”

In a match played with rain pelting the roof over Centre Court, Williams was down 5-1 in the first set before fighting her way back against a gritty opponent who pushed her around the court.

The first set lasted 65 minutes, the third went 69 minutes. Overall, the match took 2 hours, 56 minutes. By comparison, Williams won her first match against Akgul Amanmuradova on Monday in 59 minutes.

Williams came up with big serves when she needed it against Date-Krumm, the second oldest woman to reach the second round here in the Open era after Martina Navratilova.

“More than anything I’ve learned I’m very competitive,” Williams said. “Just no matter what the score, very positive. Just keep fighting.”

It was the first time the two players _ who have a combined age of 71 _ have met in their long careers.

The 57th-ranked Date-Krumm was a throwback Wednesday, hitting flat groundstrokes and sneaking into the net whenever she could for soft drop volleys.

“She just played unbelievable today,” Williams said. “I just thought today was a perfect storm for her to try to get a win. Thankfully, I had some answers.”

Date-Krumm made her Wimbledon debut in 1989, reached the semifinals in 1996 and retired later that year until her return in 2008.

“I played my tennis and (showed) I can fight with Venus also,” she said. “She’s a five-time champion here. She’s a great player. So I can fight with her. It was a very, very good match for me.”

Williams is in the opposite half of the draw from her sister Serena, a four-time champion who sobbed with relief after winning her first-round match on Tuesday in her return to Grand Slam tennis after nearly a year out with health problems.

“I think she showed that once you’re a champion, you’re always a champion,” Venus said of her younger sibling. “Regardless of what happened to her off the court, she still believes in herself. … I don’t think anybody else will ever understand what she’s been through.”

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