WIMBLEDON, England — During her walk to the locker room following a victory that sent her into Wimbledon’s final eight on Monday, Serena Williams was engulfed by a horde of fans who snapped photos, begged for autographs and clamored for a glimpse of the most dominant player of her generation.
The unruly scene at the staid All England club served to underscore the very point Williams had made two days earlier, asked whether tennis should reward women with the same prize money as men.
“Whenever I play, I get a lot of people in the stands,” said Williams, whose courtside box in recent days has included Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman and six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen. “I’m not trying to pontificate or anything, but a lot of people definitely show up. So that’s what it’s all about: You’ve got to be able to bring the crowd.”
Marketing-muscle aside, Williams raised the issue of fair play, too.
“I don’t deserve less because I have boobs and they don’t,” she said, drawing gales of laughter in a packed news conference. “My whole life has been dedicated toward being a top athlete, and I shouldn’t get paid less because of my sex.”
Whether steamrolling opponents or surviving three-set nail-biters, as she did against wild card Yaroslava Shvedova on Monday, Williams has created compelling theater at Wimbledon these last 14 years.
Reared on the hard courts of Compton, Calif., she was 20 when she first won the coveted title on Wimbledon’s manicured lawn in 2002. A decade later, she looks increasingly the favorite to claim a fifth Wimbledon crown, with top-seeded Maria Sharapova falling 6-4, 6-3 to Germany’s Sabine Lisicki on Monday. Also tumbling out was former No. 1 Kim Clijsters, ousted 6-1, 6-1 by Angelique Kerber.
That leaves defending champion Petra Kvitova and 2012 Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka the only women in the field other than Williams to have won a major title. And their one major each pales next to Williams’s 13.
While Williams’s weight, fitness and foot speed have fluctuated over the years, what has remained constant is her confidence. And when major titles are at stake, her competitive fire is without peer.
Williams arrived at Wimbledon unshaken by her first-round defeat at the French Open last month; it was the first time in her career she had failed to advance to the second round of a major.
And though she was pushed to three sets by an inferior opponent for a second consecutive match before storming back for Monday’s 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 victory, Williams remains as sure of her ability on court as she is of her opinions off it.
“I feel like I can do a lot better, which is very comforting,” said Williams, who takes on the fourth-seeded Kvitova Tuesday.
After a torrid start Monday, Williams played a sluggish second set and rallied late in the third. Serving for the match, the score knotted at 30-all, Williams was pinned deep when she uncorked a masterful lob that sailed over Shvedova’s head for a clean winner.
It was more reflex than strategy, Williams conceded. But it’s that sort of power and shot making, even when off balance or without a plan, that makes Williams so dangerous.
As for the near melee that broke out during her walk from far-flung Court 2 to the players’ locker room, Williams said she was nearly knocked over by the crowd. “[There were] tons of security guards in there just going nuts and screaming,” Williams said. “I’ve never heard them scream so loud.”
But she insisted she was never frightened. “Nobody’s going to knock me over for real,” she said with a smile. “I’d like to see that happen!”
Asked to gauge her confidence after two narrow victories, she replied: “Well, I’m Serena Williams; I’m very confident.”
Monday unfolded in fits and starts at Wimbledon, with a chilly rain delaying the start of play and suspending proceedings twice on all but Centre Court.
The showers stopped long enough for all of the women’s matches to be completed. But much was left unfinished on what was to have been the tournament’s busiest day, with all 16 men and 16 women scheduled to battle for a place among the final eight.
Before play was abandoned, defending champion Novak Djokovic advanced, dismissing fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
Six-time champion Roger Federer, who has competed seemingly without effort or injury the past 14 years, triggered alarm by leaving court for a medical timeout in the first set against Belgium’s Xavier Malisse. After getting treatment on his sore back, Federer returned for a 7-6 (7-1), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
Scotland’s Andy Murray led Marin Cilic, 7-5, 3-1, when their match was halted, disappointing legions of British fans who had camped overnight for tickets.
American Mardy Fish won the opening set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga when play was halted early in the second set, at 1-1. And Brian Baker, the only other American man left in the tournament, had not yet taken the court.