WIMBLEDON, England -- It happened three days ago to Rafael Nadal. It almost happened two days ago to Roger Federer. It seemed to be happening Saturday to Serena Williams, a star losing to a lower-ranked opponent on the All England Tennis Club's Centre Court.
"Just wasn't making my returns," said Williams, a four-time champion. "I hit so many errors off the returns."
Fortunately, she hit so many aces off serves, 23, a Wimbledon record, and Serena was able to survive the third-round match against Zheng Jie of China, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7.
"Definitely had to dig pretty deep," said Williams, the No. 6 seed. "She was playing really well. Just have to go out there and do what I could . . . The whole match I was able to hold serve, so it's good to know I can rely on that."
For the 30-year-old Williams, who five weeks ago in the French Open was beaten by Virginie Razzano, the first time Serena had lost in the opening round of any Grand Slam, it's equally satisfying to know she's regained some confidence.
"That's with any loss," Williams said. "You have to get that feeling back and regain that. You know it's not easy, especially when you're doing so well, to lose, and try to come back."
Williams had some interesting and interested spectators in the family box, including older sister Venus, who lost in the opening round and whom she would play doubles in the early evening, and actor Dustin Hoffman.
"I knew he would be there," Serena said. "Major fan of his. Who isn't a fan of Dustin Hoffman? I was honored to have him in my box. He's invited any time."
Hoffman, Venus and the rest of the Williams entourage watched Serena spend 2 hours 28 minutes against Zheng, whom she has beaten all six times they've met, including three at Wimbledon.
"Just a few points I have some chances like in the final set," sighed Zheng, the 25th seed and a semifinalist here in 2008. "I'm up 2-1, and I have three break points, but I missed, and it is 7-all. My serve game is not so well. But I think it's great match for me, also."
After the final point, Serena leaped as if she had won the tournament, not merely a match to end the first week.
"I don't remember," she said. "I just wanted to get through. The last thing I wanted to do was lose."
Asked if the match was a gut-check, Williams said, "I definitely felt like it was a gut-check. I've always been strong mentally."
Williams next plays Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, who in beating French Open runner-up Sara Errani, 6-0, 6-4, Saturday became the second person ever and the first in a Slam to record a Golden Set, sweeping all 24 points in the first set.
"I look forward to it," Williams said. "Hopefully I'll be able to win a point in the set. That will be my first goal, and then I'll go from there."