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Sabine Lisicki smiles her way to victory over Serena

A happy Sabine Lisicki on Centre Court.
by Alexandra Willis
Monday 1 July 2013

There are upsets, and then there are unfathomables.

This Wimbledon has had more than its share of the latter, Rafael Nadal's exit to Steve Darcis, Maria Sharapova's loss to Michelle Larcher De Brito, and then, of course the end of Roger Federer's Grand Slam quarter-final streak at the hands of  Sergiy Stakhovsky.

But, the player no one expected to be upset, at least not at this fourth round stage of Championships' proceedings, was Serena Williams. And particularly not from a winning position. 

The defending champion and world No.1 has barely been bothered by a fly over the course of the past six days, her imperious run to the Roland Garros title further catapulting her into the sport's annals, a career-best match-winning streak of 34 straight wins tacked to her racket.

In fact, before Manic Monday afternoon came along, the 31-year-old had lost just three matches since turning up for the first day of Wimbledon 2012. Angelique Kerber passed her by in Cincinnati last August, a bum ankle made life difficult for her against Sloane Stephens in Melbourne in January, and Victoria Azarenka handed her a rare defeat in Doha in February.

But we are all human. And, unlike Darcis, De Brito or Stakhovsky, Serena's conqueror Sabine Lisicki has an abundance of experience in the giant-killing department. 

There is proof in the statistics. The last three times she has played Wimbledon, the constantly-smiling German has claimed the scalp of the reigning Roland Garros champion. She beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round in 2009, Li Na in the second round in 2011, and Maria Sharapova in the fourth round in 2012.

They say that good things, like bad things, happen in threes, but perhaps they happen in fours too.

Serena had beaten Lisicki on their two previous meetings, on hard courts in Stanford in 2011, and on clay in Charleston in 2012. But they had never met on grass. Lisicki's record of 16-4 at Wimbledon doesn't quite measure up to Serena's 70-8, but her game is as tailor-made for the surface as Serena's is. 

"I just 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." 

"She's a great grass court player," Serena said about her opponent.  "She's excellent.  She's not a push‑over.  She's a great player. "

That said, the German 24th seed looked like Centre Court was a far from comfortable place to be in the opening exchanges of the match, forced to save three break points in her first two service games. But she settled, producing winners to the American's unforced errors, and breaking to lead 4-2 as a Serena forehand went well wayward.

With the crowd somewhat stunned, Lisicki bustled ever onwards, breaking the defending champion to love as she served to stay in the set, and taking it in 44 minutes.

But woe betide the player who angers Serena Williams. Forced into angered concentration, Williams produced not a single unforced error in the second set as she thundered through six games in a row to level the match. Leading 3-0 in the third, it looked all but over.

But similarly, woe betide the pundit who predicts too early. Because then the unfathomable bit happened. Still smiling, Lisicki held to end Serena's streak of nine games on the trot, and, from where we don't know, broke the American's serve. Serena broke back. Lisicki broke again. And Serena broke back. At 4-4 in the third set, Lisicki had a put away that could have taken Serena's head off. It was a mark of the match. Here was a player unruffled and unfettered by the titles, experience and aura on the other side of the net. Serena, by contrast, was as tight as she's looked since her last loss. Something had gone. Winning just five of 16 break points would tell you that.

"I definitely had my opportunities and I didn't take them," Serena said frankly. " I didn't play the big points good enough.  I didn't do what I do best."

Whether was something not quite right for Serena today, we don't know. One enterprising pundit produced a somewhat astonishing statistic that in the five Grand Slams where her sister Venus has been absent, Serena has lost in the fourth round in all but one of them.

"I think it was, but I think I made it off by not doing what I should have done out there," Serena said when asked if it had been an off day.

"For me, I have to be able to serve well, especially on this court, and especially going up against such a really, really strong server like Sabine. The result didn't go the way it could have gone had I continued to play the way I did in the second set."

Instead, this was Lisicki's day on Centre Court. With a calmness that belied the stampede surely going on in her head, she served out a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 win, the most famous of her four Wimbledon upsets.

"I just 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'm just so glad that I could pull off the win today." 

Breaking down in tears as she did her post-match interview, for the first time all afternoon, she wasn't smiling. Until she realised what she'd done.  And then the smile returned.

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