LONDON — All of a sudden, Serena Williams is failing to stick around for long at Grand Slam tournaments.
Betrayed by her backhand and, more surprisingly, her usually dangerous serve, five-time Wimbledon champion Williams lost to 25th-seeded Alize Cornet of France 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 Saturday in the third round at the All England Club.
It’s Williams’ earliest exit at the All England Club since 2005, when she also was beaten in the third round. She won the title in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
“I don’t know how I did it,” Cornet said. “Just with my heart — and the help of the crowd.”
The No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams owns 17 Grand Slam titles, but she now has departed before the quarterfinals at four of the past five major tournaments. That includes fourth-round losses at Wimbledon last year and at the Australian Open in January, and a second-round loss at the French Open in May.
Of Williams’ five total losses in all tournaments this season, two have come against Cornet, who also beat the 32-year-old American at the Dubai Championships in February.
Still, this result was rather unexpected, given their comparative Grand Slam careers. Cornet never had been past the third round at the All England Club, and she only once before got to the fourth round of a major — way back at the 2009 Australian Open.
Saturday’s match was halted at 1-all, deuce in the opening set because of rain that disrupted play around the grounds most of the day. After a delay of about 4 1/2 hours, Williams was terrific when they resumed, reeling off five games in a row to grab the first set.
And then, quick as can be, things changed dramatically.
Cornet began putting shots right where she wanted them, while Williams had trouble finding the mark. In all, Williams wound up with 29 unforced errors — 11 more than Cornet.
“She helped me a little bit,” Cornet said, “because she made some mistakes.”
Two particular types of strokes troubled Williams: Her serve, widely regarded as the best in women’s tennis, let her down repeatedly, with a total of seven double-faults; and her backhand, which produced 12 of those unforced errors. Cornet did not have a single unforced error off her backhand.
In the third set, Cornet took four games in a row to lead 5-2, but she got broken while serving for the match the first time. Given a second chance, she steadied herself, and on match point, delivered a perfect drop shot.
When Williams netted the response, Cornet pounded her chest with her fist. Then she hopped around Court 1, before kneeling to kiss the grass.
Cornet had been 0-13 against top-20 opponents in Grand Slam matches. Now she’s 1-13.
It was by far the most significant — and surprising — outcome on a day full of starts-and-stops thanks to the wet weather.
Three other past Wimbledon champions won on Centre Court, where the roof was closed and soccer star David Beckham was in the Royal Box: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.
For his third match in a row this year at Wimbledon, two-time champion Nadal dropped the first set before coming back to win, this time beating 63rd-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.
“From the very first points of the second set, he improved a lot. All his shots just started to be much more hard, powerful and more aggressive,” Kukushkin said. “It was like a different player.”
Sharapova, the 2004 champion, was up next in the main stadium, and she, too, overcame a slow start. But after falling behind 3-1, she won 11 consecutive games for a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 44th-ranked Alison Riske of the United States.
As for Federer, who has collected seven of his 17 major trophies at the All England Club, there really was never any trouble spot. He needed less than 75 minutes to eliminate 35th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 and hasn’t lost a set through three matches.
“I’m very pleased. It’s always good to keep on moving on,” Federer said. “Last year, I lost in the second round, so I’m aware of the tough draws you get or the danger of certain players on this surface.”