- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

WIMBLEDON, England | Venus Williams ambled onto sun-splashed Court 1 at Wimbledon on Thursday, a slight hitch in her step and an odd-looking wrap around her left knee. White tape here, brown tape there.

Good thing the five-time Wimbledon champion didn’t need to run to hit serves, huh? Powered in part by her big-as-can-be deliveries, Williams overwhelmed 73rd-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko 6-3, 6-2 in the second round to stretch her All England Club winning streaks to 16 matches and 27 sets.

Afterward, Williams was coy about the bandaging, saying it was “just for support.”

“I really hate tape - like, hate. But I just needed it this time. I accepted that, and I realize that this is Wimbledon. So since it was Wimbledon, I taped,” said the American, who is trying to become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1991-93 to win three consecutive titles at the All England Club.

Asked why she needed help for this match after not wearing anything on that leg in the first round Tuesday, Williams said: “Well, what happened was, I needed some support, and then I went and got the support, and then I wore it in the match. … I mean, I think all the players might start wearing it because it’s so supportive.”

At last month’s French Open, where Williams lost in the third round, her father, Richard, said she had pain in her left knee. Her mother, Oracene Price, wouldn’t offer an explanation Thursday after watching Williams hit six aces at up to 119 mph against Bondarenko, saying only, “Maybe she’ll tell you. I’m not going have her screaming at me.”

And with that, Price headed off to get a good spot to watch Court 4, where Williams teamed with younger sister Serena to reach the second round in doubles with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Virginie Razzano and Aravane Reza.

The Great Tape Caper produced the closest thing to real intrigue at a tournament that has largely been devoid of surprises other than Maria Sharapova’s loss a day earlier. There were, however, two young American qualifiers who both made their way into the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time: 17-year-old Melanie Oudin of Marietta, Ga., and 21-year-old Jesse Levine of Boca Raton, Fla.

“I’m still, like, trying to comprehend everything,” said Oudin, who is ranked 124th and beat Yaroslava Shvedova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

The 133rd-ranked Levine, who was born in Canada and moved to Florida when he was 13, defeated Pablo Cuevas 6-2, 6-1, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.

“He goes about it the right way. He’s professional. He works hard,” 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick said of Levine. “You wish all the young guys kind of had his work ethic and professionalism.”

Roddick, twice a Wimbledon runner-up, got to the third round with a 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 win over Igor Kunitsyn. Playing on the grass that gives solid serves extra verve, Roddick hit 18 aces and faced break points in only one game.

Only one seeded player departed: No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro. While his 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 loss to a man ranked 56th might ordinarily count as an upset, it wasn’t necessarily all that shocking when you consider that man is Lleyton Hewitt. That’s because the 28-year-old Hewitt was the 2002 champion at Wimbledon and reached at least the fourth round each of the past five years, while the 20-year-old del Potro never has been past the second round at the All England Club.

“He’s one of my idols,” del Potro said.

None of the top women was tested on Day 4. Like Williams, No. 1 Dinara Safina and past major champions Svetlana Kuznetsova, Amelie Mauresmo and Ana Ivanovic all won in straight sets. There was, however, some wondering aloud by Safina and Kuznetsova about whether they were treated properly by organizers who shunted them off to smaller venues.

Roddick is one of three U.S. men left - he, Levine and No. 28 Mardy Fish all attended Boca Prep International School - and Hewitt was the only Australian man who even entered Wimbledon. Andy Murray, as expected, is the last British player remaining in a tournament last won in the 1930s by a man from the host country, and he was impressive in beating Ernests Gulbis 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.

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