WIMBLEDON, England -- Serena Williams bunny-hopped three times on her one and a half legs, set herself inside the baseline to await the final serve, then took the ball on the rise and jammed it back cross-court hard enough to handcuff Daniela Hantuchova yesterday and deliver the decisive blow to the tall, bewildered Slovakian.
"I was definitely saved by the rain," she said.
She might have added to the list of saviors the trainers who iced her pulled calf muscle and gave her so much liquid that she was begging the chair umpire for a bathroom break in the third set; and Hantuchova, who played tentatively against an injured opponent.
Williams had virtually collapsed on Centre Court in the second set of her 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-2 victory when pain shot through her left leg immediately after Hantuchova had scored for a 30-15 lead at 5-5.
Williams lay on the grass, gripping her leg, and the anguish on her face must have frightened her parents and sister, Venus, who watched from the stands.
But after three minutes of medical attention, she insisted on continuing, hoping that although she could hardly walk, her serve would put her into the tiebreak and give her a chance of winning straight sets.
Her prospects were grim when Hantuchova shot out to a 4-0 lead and was ahead 4-2 in the breaker. Then, rain shut down play for nearly two hours, allowing Williams to get treatment and return at 7:27 p.m.
"I thought about not finishing, but very briefly," she said. "I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't at least tried."
It was another dreary day at Wimbledon, with constant rain delays and a final deluge that persuaded referee Andrew Jarrett to send everyone home about 8 p.m.
No. 1 seed Justine Henin, who has lost 15 games in four matches, breezed into the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 15 Patty Schnyder to reach the final eight with Williams, whom she is scheduled to play tomorrow.
Michaella Krajicek also reached the quarters, but the bottom half of the women's draw is still trying to catch up.
No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova is in the round of 16 along with No. 6 seed Ana Ivanovic, the French Open runner-up, and No. 11 Nadia Petrova, No. 14 Nicole Vaidisova, Venus Williams and unseeded 16-year-old Tamira Paszek.
Things are crawling along even more slowly in the men's tournament, which hasn't completed the round of 16. Tomas Berdych, the No. 7 seed, got there yesterday and was joined by No. 10 Marcos Baghdatis, No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny and Jonas Bjorkman.
Williams, who had a hard time standing up before the rain delay, said, "I think I was crying at one point."
When she returned to court, her left leg was heavily wrapped and she wore long white pants. Hantuchova won the first five points to take the tiebreak and bolt to a 30-0 lead in the opening game of the final set.
But she seemed transfixed by Williams' injury. She wasn't moving much, she wasn't handling Williams' return of service and, after hitting a drop shot that put her up 40-0 in the fourth game, she angered Williams.
"That pretty much set me off," Williams said. "I don't know why that particularly made me so upset, but it was just like, you know, this is it. I'm not going down today. There is no way."
Hantuchova hit a few winners and three aces in the final set, but for most of it she was playing not to lose. On Williams' first break point, Hantuchova hit a backhand into the net for 4-2, and 15 minutes later it was over.
"Mentally, it was very, very tough, plus having to deal with the rain." Hantuchova said. "It's tough because you feel sorry for them because you know what they have to go through. But at the same time you still have to be focused on what you have to do on [the] court."
Note -- This year's Breakfast at Wimbledon will be Bud Collins' last at NBC. The network won't renew the 78-year-old sportswriter and TV personality's contract, making this his 35th and final Wimbledon with NBC. "So I had 35 great years with them. I have no complaints about them, but I hope to stay in tennis," Collins said yesterday at the All England Club. "I'm not retiring. Too young to retire." NBC Sports spokesman Brian Walker declined to comment. This year, Collins will fill the same role he has during recent Wimbledons, conducting on-court interviews after the men's and women's singles finals. "They're going to do a tribute, I understand, a retrospective," Collins said. "And I'll be there and I'll say ... I had a wonderful career with NBC, I was a very lucky guy, and I'm leaving but I don't intend to leave tennis." Collins is best known for his tennis coverage but has covered many other sports, including baseball and boxing. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994, and won the Red Smith Award presented by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 1999. He is known for his colorful phrases and colorful outfits. Among the nicknames he is credited with bestowing on tennis stars are "Fraulein Forehand" for Steffi Graf and "Sisters Sledgehammer" for Venus and Serena Williams.
Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.