It’s become a recurring scene for Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon, dropping to her knees crying in delight as she ousts a highly-fancied seed from The Championships.
We saw it last year in the second round when she knocked out reigning French Open champion Li Na in an exciting three-set battle. This year it happened again after she beat another current Roland Garros champion in Maria Sharapova, stunning the top seed on No.1 Court with a brutal display of serving and power-hitting throughout a 6-4, 6-3 victory.
All Sharapova could do was tip her hat to the German. “I think I a lot of the credit goes to my opponent. She played extremely well today and did many things better than I did on this given day,” she said.
Nothing indicated that Lisicki would win this match. She came to the All England Club on a four-match losing streak and had not impressed in her first three matches, dishing up 20 double faults – including 12 against Bojana Jovanovski – before reaching the last 16. Playing Sharapova, she faced an opponent she had failed to beat in three previous matches.
But perhaps we should have seen this result coming. The German has steadily improved in every contest against the 2004 Wimbledon champion, and would have loved nothing more than to avenge last year’s Wimbledon semi-final defeat. Lisicki certainly felt confident she could reverse the losing trend.
“I felt like I'm hitting the balls very clean. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. When I took the first set, it obviously gives you another lift, more confidence,” she said.
“As soon as I got the break in the second set, I knew I'm going to take it home.”
Lisicki had shot out to a 5-2 lead in the first set, although her lead looked increasingly tenuous as Sharapova improved her consistency to break back for 4-5 and move ahead 40-15 in the tenth game. Yet Sharapova visibly tightened, sending a backhand long and then double-faulting on the next two points. Two big returns winners later, and Lisicki had pocketed the opening set, just before persistent drizzle forced the suspension of play.
Resuming 45 minutes later, Lisicki secured the break in style, sending a monstrous forehand return for a cold winner past Sharapova that stupefied the crowd. She maintained that advantage for the rest of the set, staying true to her aggressive game while benefiting from more uncharacteristic errors from the Russian.
Sharapova was visibly urging herself to fight, and got on the board at 1-3 thanks to consecutive aces. But rather than be discouraged, Lisicki responded instead with an ace and a pair of forehand winners, holding to love and moving ahead 4-1. It was a deficit from which Sharapova was unable to recover. In an entertaining final game, Sharapova saved two match points but could only watch as Lisicki pounded an ace on a second serve to move through to the quarter-finals.
During her second round win over Jovanovski, Lisicki had complained to the chair umpire about the Serbian’s grunting, but against Sharapova – among the sport’s most infamous screamers – the German would let nothing distract her. She even said she suffered no nerves in serving out arguably her biggest career victory.
“I just missed a couple of points here and there, but overall I just felt very good and confident,” she said.
“I don't see any pressure for myself. I just go out there, enjoy it, and want to play the best tennis I can and keep improving. Why should I put pressure on myself?”
It’s an approach she’ll take into her next match against her compatriot, Angelique Kerber, who, somewhat surprisingly, upended Kim Clijsters 6-1, 6-1 in the fourth round. Rather than focus on the potential emotional conflict of facing a countrywoman, she was following the “match by match” routine and said she was happy to see where another exciting run at Wimbledon would take her.
“I just love playing tennis and I love being out there, especially at my favourite tournament,” she said.
“The atmosphere here at Wimbledon is just amazing. You know, all the traditions make me feel very comfortable here.”