By Jane Voigt
Serena Williams walked to the ad court. Her demeanor had not changed the entire match. Game face Serena with a pensive bent. Then she flicked a drop of sweat from her brow. The five-time Wimbledon champion was officially on edge. And then she was out, her 34-match win streak broken as were her hopes of an 17th Grand Slam title.
In a stunning display of tenacity, power and resolve Sabine Lisicki had done what millions thought was massively improbable. The German defeated the queen of all betting houses in three passionate sets: 62 16 64.
“I’m so happy,” she told BBC TV between tears and laughter. “Amazing to win this match, the crowd was fantastic. Thank you.”
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka plus many others had fallen in the first week. But to realize Serena Williams was out before the quarterfinals thwacked fans with yet another turn of events.
Sabine’s initial reaction on Centre Court was a belly flop. She laid there and heaved sobs of joy. When she gathered her bearings and stood up, her infectious and sincere smile filled the arena with love and gratitude.
“I was fighting for every single point no matter what was happening out there,” Lisicki said. “Serena’s a very tough player. That’s why she is No. 1 in the world. I gave it everything I had.”
Lisicki was Williams first big challenge at Wimbledon. But you wouldn’t say she was rusty, not prepared, or intimidated. No one intimidates Serena, let’s be serious. But that’s how she appeared today, at times. Her serve less forceful. Her winners lower than usual and errors higher than usual. Her proven ability to lock down her mind and bust her way to the finish line absent. The telling stat — she converted only 5 of 16 break points.
“I didn’t do what I do best,” Serena said. “I didn’t play the big points good enough.”
Lisicki, though, is known for wrecking havoc with top-ranked players, especially French Open champions. In fact, she upended those champions at Wimbledon every year since 2009. Now she had beaten two world number ones in the round of sixteen: Maria Sharapova, 2012, and Serena today.
“She’s a great grass court player,” Serena told the press. “She’s not a pushover.”
Lisicki was not shy about telling anyone who asked about her love of Wimbledon. She loves the surface and pace and admits her serve is the most important shot. She served 10 aces today, to 7 from Serena. Both averaged 108 m.p.h. on first serves, with Williams topping Lisicki for fastest serve at 123 to 122 m.p.h.
In the first set, the momentum built for Lisicki until she broke to go up 4-2. She answered power with power. Williams could not break back and Lisicki whipped a cross-court forehand to close out the set.
Serena had lost five games in a row. But it’s not wise to anger the Queen of Centre Court. She broke to open the second set and ran off nine games to up the ante. Her serve perked up. The placement was more keen. And, she took an aggressive stance inside the baseline. She was simmering and self-contained. She committed zero unforced errors in the second. This Serena would have won the match.
In the third set, the match looked all but over as the No. 1 seed went up 4-2.
But Lisicki fought. She never gave up.
She kept her head down and her heart high. She never looked forlorn. She even smiled after missing an easy shot. Her resolve moved her forward; she quickly forgot missed opportunities and stood her ground point by point.
After four breaks of serve the score board read, 4-games all. The rat-ta-tat-tat of their rallies had mesmerized. Serena stepped up to serve. Moments later, Lisicki stared down a break point but fudged it. No matter, I’ll get the next one — or so her attitude seemed to say. She was right.
They sat down with the score 5-4, Lisicki. On break point down in that crucial game, because everyone knew if Serena converted and leveled the match again she would take it, Lisicki hit her tenth ace … whack. And then with a convincing forehand, she had won.
“I feel very comfortable here,” Lisicki said. “I went into the match feeling that I could win. Played very good first three matches and I felt ready for this match.”
Anything could happen is rather cliche but it fits this Wimbledon. Expect shocks. Down with normal, unless your talking Andy Murray. Thankfully he pulled through today. However, Laura Robson did not. Kaia Kanepi stopped the British teen and will next meet Miss Lisicki in the quarterfinals tomorrow on Court 1 at 8 a.m. eastern standard time.