Lisicki looks at Wimbledon final place

The singles title is still wide open with the German playing her best for some years

Sabine Lisicki of Germany

Sabine Lisicki of Germany

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 01:00

A championship depleted of its traditional stars moved to fill the vacuum yesterday. Sabine Lisicki, slayer of Serena Williams, bubbled and boomed her way past Kaia Kanepi and the crowd cooed and clapped.

The German’s enthusiasm, her buoyancy around the court and the reaction she drew suggested she had become the new vested interest. There is never neutrality.

The crowd always needs heroines and villains and Lisicki had them in her hand. Her hunger and the emotion that was never too far from breaking the surface amply demonstrated that the Wimbledon title has ceased to be an object of fantasy for her.

“I can’t explain it. Really,” she said after winning 6-3, 6-3 in 65 minutes, a canter compared to the 12-round bare knuckle skirmish with Williams. “I think the passion for the game and also having the injury in the past. Three years ago when I couldn’t walk, I had to learn how to walk again,” she added, referring to a serious ankle injury sustained in 2010 at Indian Wells that required five months of recovery.

“That made me appreciate every single moment out there a lot more. That’s why I don’t let anybody take that away from me.”

Ghosts of divas
The ghosts of Maria Sharapova and Williams may still stalk the All-England Club and the loss of that sprinkling of stardust is painfully felt. But there are eager divas willing to step up.

Lisicki now leads that pack after America’s Sloan Stephens was crushed in two sets by Marion Bartoli in a rain delayed match. Bartoli, who asked for the covers to come on when she thought the court was becoming dangerous, was the runner up in 2007, losing to Williams but beating top seed Justine Henin on the way.

The 28-year-old French battler beat the 20-year-old American 6-4, 7-5 and ended an American interest in the women’s singles. The call for covers didn’t make Bartoli best mates with the fans, who roundly booed, but that won’t matter as they have chosen Lisicki.

They loved her big serves and booming ground strokes, and yesterday also admired her soft hands at the net, a mixed up game and everything that bore the hallmarks of a 23-year-old who plays with her head and competes from the heart.

There are no grey areas: she twice broke Kanepi’s serve in the first set, dropped her own early in the second, but swiftly rebounded with two breaks in quick succession for a comfortable win.

Lisicki now faces top seed Agnieszka Radwanska. The Polish finalist from last year took the scenic route past China’s Li Na, a tie-break deciding the first set in Radwanska’s favour before Li broke twice for the second set. The fourth seed rallied, broke Li’s serve twice in the third set and afterwards complained of tiredness in her legs.

“It was a bit bad schedule for me. Didn’t have the day off today,” said Radwanska. “Last two matches was pretty much very similar too. 2:40 (two hours and 40 minutes) I think on court. It’s a lot, especially on grass. Everything comes to your legs.

“As you can see, I was really struggling with that today. But, you know, this is the quarter-final of the grand slam, so I was really pushing myself, even 200 per cent, to play till the end, fight till the end.”

The wonderfully named Belgian Kirsten Flipkens did a mini version of what Lisicki did to Williams, when she knocked out the eighth seed and 2011 winner Petra Kvitova.

Flipkens worked to a point where she was serving for the match and went up 40-0. Tightening a little, she handed back two of those points before acing her disbelieving Czech opponent. Challenged, the ball landed on the line in the corner and, importantly, in. Kvitova stood in mild shock at the baseline, her eyes closed as Flipkens punched the air and stuck out her tongue.

A former Wimbledon and US Open junior champion, the 27-year-old won her first WTA title just last year after wrist surgery in 2010 and had never been past the third round at Wimbledon.

Shocked? Well nobody is any more. Bartoli faces Flipkens in one semi-final, Lisicki and Radwanska in the other. None has ever won at the All-England Club before.

It’s a crap-shoot as to who makes the final, as the norm has been for the seeding to be turned on its head. But Lisicki has a grip on the hearts and minds. In that there is some value.