Serena Williams
Williams came back from the brink to continue her pursuit of a sixth Wimbledon crown.Getty Images

World number one Serena Williams survived a major scare to defeat Briton's Heather Watson and march into fourth round after a thrilling three-set contest at Wimbledon.

The 20-time grand slam champion was a double-break down in the third set and two points from defeat before rallying to win 6-2 4-6 7-5 to set up a last 16 clash with sister Venus Williams.

Watson missed the chance to produce the shock of the Ladies' draw when coming out to serve for the match at 5-4 as she scummed to the nerves of the occasion; and the American punished her hesitancy with a deadly performance.

While Williams will march into the second week of a tournament she is seeking to win for a sixth time, Watson will emerge from her equal career-best performance at a major with much credit heading into the second half of the year.

"I've had some tough losses but that was defiantly my toughest match," said Williams. "I was playing Heather in front of a home crowd and I was defiantly playing against a few opponents but I thought she player unbeliebable

"She should have won the match. She was two breaks up and she really gave it her all and shows what a great player she is. She was playing so good there was nothing I could do."

In just her third last 32 appearance at a grand slam after following victory over Daniela Hantuchova, Watson knew she maybe only had pride to play for when matched with Williams – a five-time champion at the All-England Club.

Williams needed little invitation to impose herself on the Brit and muscled her way into a 3-1 lead as Watson was punished for failing to discover her first serve.

A raucous home crowd, which has already enjoyed success in the form of Andy Murray and James Ward, were in boisterous mood but they were quickly dampened as Williams secure a second break to take the opening set.

But if the 33-year-old thought her early superiority would continue unchallenged she was provided with a rude awakening in the form of the energetic Watson, who broke in the fifth game to reignite her hopes in the second set.

Though Williams broke straight back, the world number 59 ranked Watson continued to keep with her illustrious opponent, breaking for a second time as she benefited from a string of errors coming from the opposite end of the court.

Staring down the barrel of her advantage being extinguished once again, Watson produce a stunning backhand winner down the line before Williams netted a forehand – her 13th error of the match - on her second set point to clinch level the third round encounter.

Unbeaten in three-set matches in 2015, Williams was still expected to pull away in the adversity but again Watson had other ideas with a second straight break to lead the deciding set.

Watson survived a break-back point to cement her advantage and things would get even better for the Guernsey-born right-hander as Williams reeled off successive double-faults to go a down break down.

Now firmly on the attack, the venom in Williams' ground-strokes intensified and Watson had to see off five break-back points before eventually scrumming as her opponent found a foothold in the decider.

It proved to be a moment which would swing the momentum firmly the 20-time major champion's way, as she broke for a second time as she rediscovered the authority which has defined her rise to the summit of the women's game.

However, in a manner which typified the flow of the match Watson broke for a third time in the set to come out to serve for the match but once again Williams stood between her and a momentous victory.

A straight-forward Williams hold led to a nerve-jangling Watson service game and though the Briton was able to hold off two match points, a third was too much as the USA player prevailed after little over two hours on centre court.