Serena Williams said this defeat was “not a shock”, but her conqueror knew better. Having sent a forehand past the defending champion to secure the biggest win of her life Sabine Lisicki fell to the floor and lay prostrate and overwhelmed. As she climbed to her feet the tears welled up while a smile the width of the Rhine lit up her face.
This was the fourth Wimbledon at which Lisicki has downed the newly crowned champion of the French Open, but defeating Li Na, Svetlana Kuznetsova and even Maria Sharapova is one thing; beating the Queen of SW19 is another level and she knew it.
Lisicki is seeded 23 but, as Williams noted, on grass she should be ranked far higher. The 23-year-old reached the semi-finals here in 2011, also reaching the women’s doubles final, and indicated after this win she felt she was capable of going all the way.
“I went into the match believing I could win,” she said, adding this was not just because she viewed the French Open link as a “good omen”. “I’ve played four very good matches and I think I play better each match,” she said. Estonia’s unseeded Kaia Kanepi, who dispatched Laura Robson yesterday, is Lisicki’s quarter-final opponent, with either Agnieszka Radwanska or Li, the two highest seeds remaining in the women’s draw at four and six respectively, waiting in the semi.
German-born of Polish parents, Lisicki lives in Florida, training at Nick Bollettieri’s academy. With a serve as fast as Williams’ (both averaged 109mph on their first serve) and a similarly powerful groundstrokes Lisicki traded blows and winners with the American. Taking the champion by surprise, Lisicki won the first set 6-2 on the back of eight successive points on Williams’ serve that secured back-to-back breaks. The champion’s response was to blow Lisicki away to take the second set 6-1 in 27 cyclonic minutes.
Normal service seemed to have been resumed, especially when Williams marched to a 4-2 third-set lead, but Lisicki stunned her and an enraptured Centre Court crowd by winning the next four games. On her first match point she overhit a forehand. Lisicki then served a double-fault to hand Williams a break point for 5-5. It seemed the pressure had got to her, but the German sent down an ace, then served out for a notable victory.
In the immediate aftermath Lisicki could barely control herself. “It is an amazing feeling to win this match,” she said. “I love this court so much. It is such a special place. I gave it everything. I fought for every single point.”
Later she admitted “I am very emotional, on and off the court.” The challenge now is controlling that emotion. Kim Clisters tweeted yesterday, echoing similar comments by Ivan Lendl about Sergiy Stakhovsky, who lost the round after putting out Roger Federer: “So many players think tournament is done when beating top player! #refocus #no celebrations yet.” Told of this Lisicki said: “I’m already focused for tomorrow.”
To emphasise that, Lisicki and her mixed doubles partner, Bahamian Mark Knowles, pulled out of their match on Monday night, conceding a walkover.
For Williams, there is not even the consolation of another ladies’ doubles title – with sister Venus absent she is not competing. This was her first defeat in 35 matches and she said: “For me any loss is extremely tough to overcome. I didn’t play what I usually do best, I had opportunities and didn’t take them. I didn’t play the big points good enough. She played a super-aggressive game.”
The other matches in the women’s fourth round involving seeds all went by the book, although Tsvetana Pironkova threatened a shock when she took the first set against Radwanska 6-4. The Bulgarian has a good record at Wimbledon, having previously reached the last four, but last year’s finalist rallied to take the next two sets 6-3. She meets Li, who brusquely dismissed Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-0. This was despite her husband infuriating her by hitting slices during her warm-up.
It was, she said, a surprise to play so well as “I was so nervous because my husband [Jiang Shan, a coach in his own right] tried to hit slice. Men play different to women and I couldn’t [time] the ball. But he was happy as I think it is his job to make me unhappy.
“My coach Carlos [Rodriguez], he told me ‘today, fourth round, is the contract – tomorrow is the bonus’. I want to cash the bonus.”
In the other half of the draw Sloane Stephens, the only American of either sex left playing in the singles, came back from one set down to defeat Monica Puig 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. The Puerto Rican teenager has had a stunning Wimbledon debut but she ran out of steam against the No 17 seed. Stephens is now carrying the hopes of a nation but she may draw confidence from Serena Williams suggesting that, in the wake of her own exit, Stephens can be champion.
“She has a great draw,” noted Williams. Maybe. Stephens now faces Marion Bartoli, the No 15 seed and 2007 runner-up who is yet to drop a set. She is then likely to meet Petra Kvitova, the 2011 winner, though she must first beat Kirsten Flipkens, the Belgian No 20 seed who is finally winning on grass, having previously played as if she regarded it as suitable for cows, but not tennis.