London: American veteran Venus Williams played like the great champion she has been at Wimbledon on Friday but fell just short, losing a high-quality Centre Court slug fest against Petra Kvitova.
A match-up between two of the best exponents of grasscourt tennis always looked like being a classic and it did not disappoint as 2011 champion Kvitova edged it 5-7 7-6(2) 7-5.
Williams, whose last Wimbledon title came in 2008, was bidding to reach the last-16 for the first time since 2011 and played some majestic tennis during a first set in which both players exchanged plenty of heavy metal.
Thundering down first serves reaching nearly 120mph (193kph) and clubbing the ball off the ground, the 34-year-old Williams kept her nose in front throughout an absorbing first set in which the sound of racket on ball rumbled around the arena.
Despite being 10 years younger than her lithe opponent, the left-handed Kvitova was the first to feel the pace and was broken to love in the 12th game.
Kvitova stood her ground as the second set followed a similar pattern to the first with serves dominating but she came alive in the tiebreak to streak ahead and levelled the match when Williams served a double fault.
Williams, who was world number one 12 years ago and in 17 Wimbledons has racked up 73 match wins, the most of any active player, could make no impression on Kvitova`s serve in the decider but still held firm until the bitter end.
Serving at 5-6, however, she slipped 15-40 behind and Kvitova seized her chance to move through.
Sister Serena, the world No.1 and favourite for the title, will aim to keep the family flag flying in the singles on Saturday when she faces Alize Cornet in the third round.