If Sabine Lisicki took issue with the noise coming from across the net during her second-round marathon, she best prepare for more of the same after booking a fourth-round rematch of last year's Wimbledon semi-final with Maria Sharapova.
The 15th seed complained of Serbian young gun Bojana Jovanovski’s gamesmanship in her previous match, but on Friday it was the swirling winds on No.3 Court and the crisp hitting of a 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens causing her headaches.
Having lost in the first round of all four tournaments she had played since returning from an ankle injury in April, Lisicki has now won three on the trot after her 7-6(5), 1-6, 6-2 victory.
“It was tough to play out there; tricky conditions,” last year’s semi-finalist beamed afterwards.
“I was happy with my play especially in the third set though.”
After a brief rain delay, the blustery conditions played havoc on both players’ returns. Serving to stay in the first set, Stephens slapped an easy put-away halfway up the net, sent another long, framed a forehand into the stands – the spectator dropping the catch under difficult conditions – and threw in a double fault to hand Lisicki her first set point. She saved one with a big serve cramming the German and managed to hold for 5-5 with a forehand up the line.
In the first-set tie-break, Lisicki continued to go for the winner off the first strike, handing Stephens a 5-2 buffer. The teenager failed to capitalise though, with Lisicki taking five straight points to edge the breaker 7-5.
“I knew I made some easy mistakes to go down 2‑5. I had chances,” Lisicki said. “It was very windy, but, you know, I adjusted well, I think. Just calmed down and went for my shots and made them.”
Threatening to run away with the match after the mini-comeback, Lisicki cracked a running forehand winner cross-court, past a stranded Stephens at net. It drew applause from the American, but merely served to spark her into action.
Last month Stephens became the first American teenager to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since Serena Williams and with both Williams sisters in the in the 30-plus age bracket, she could well be the next big name for a country desperate to anoint a post-Williams successor.
With Lisicki’s unforced error count three times as high early in the second set, Stephens took the initiative, letting her muscular shoulders swing freely to peg Lisicki deep behind the baseline. She broke for 3-1 and went on to sweep five games in a row, snaring the set 6-1 on her first set point.
Sensing an upset brewing and with her number being on the wrong end of it, Lisicki set about stalling her opponent’s momentum. Time and again throughout the match, Lisicki had set the point up with her booming, flat groundstrokes only to overcook the sitting three-quarter-court ball.
Cutting down the errors, she broke for 3-1 in the decider and with Stephens serving to stay in the match at 2-5, Lisicki avoided having to serve it out when the American sent one last backhand wide to hand after 1hr 52mins.
Asked whether she spent Thursday night watching Rafael Nadal’s epic five-set defeat, Lisicki was quick to make her loyalty clear.
“I didn’t watch it,” she smiled. “I was watching the Germany soccer match, sorry.”
She will hope for a better result than her countrymen’s Euro 2012 semi-final loss when she squares off against Sharapova in the last 16.
“We had a very close match in Australia, played a great match,” she said. “So, you know, it was definitely really close, and I'm looking forward to playing here in Wimbledon again.''