The winner of the Ladies’ Singles in this year’s extraordinary Championships may have been a formality in many people’s minds, even before the No.2 and No.3 seeds – Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, respectively – were prematurely shown the door, but the serious, business-like demeanour that Serena Williams has always adopted throughout her matches suggests that she has never been one to believe in her own publicity.
“I never feel invincible,” she had conceded after her straightforward first-round victory against Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella. “I always feel that I have to be ready for each opponent in each game, and I never become over-confident. I think when I do, or if I do, that's the moment that I'm most vulnerable.”
Before the tournament had even begun, Williams admitted to feeling under “time pressure”. She will be 32 in September and although anyone would think she had sated her appetite for success after 29 Grand Slam title successes, she still wants more. But she knows, as good as she is, that time is running out. One more win yesterday and she would have equalled her sister Venus’s record run, set in 2000, of 35 matches without defeat.
Not for one moment did she take Sabine Lisicki – her conqueror in three compelling sets on Monday – lightly. Indeed she was at pains to point out both before and after the fourth-round match what a great grass-court player the German was. Yet still some members of the media refused to accept that this match, if not the title, wasn’t a given. She eventually had to issue a mild rebuke following yet another suggestion that it was.
“C'mon, guys, let’s get with it,” she said. “She’s excellent. She’s not a pushover. She's a great player. To play this match in any Wimbledon in the fourth round, it's not an easy draw.”
The freedom to play with nothing to lose is not a feeling with which Williams is overly familiar, and it’s one that Lisicki, as joyfully as she plays the game, may now be denied. Beating the No.1 seed – and doing it so impressively – will automatically install her as the new favourite in many people’s minds. And if that’s so, she now has to succeed where the likes of Michelle Larcher de Brito, Sergiy Stakhovsky and a few other giant-killers in these Championships failed, i.e. follow up a great success with another.
Of course, the No.23 seed, who was beating a current French Open champion for the fourth time at Wimbledon, is rather less of an outsider than the aforementioned. She has twice before reached this quarter-final stage of the singles here and even made the semi-finals in 2011, but she will have the pressure of being favourite to beat the British party pooper, Kaia Kanepi, in the opening match on No.1 Court today. She denied, however, that it would inhibit her.
Surprisingly, she and Kanepi have never met before. The key could be how well the Estonian returns serve – Williams felt that Lisicki’s serve has been consistently faster than even hers here. “Always in the 120s. She's hitting huge serves, constantly, back to back,” said Williams. “With the surface being a lot faster, it's going to be a little difficult to break her.”
Yet Williams still wasn’t tipping her to win the title. Whether for patriotic reasons, Williams gave her vote to the last American standing in the singles’ events, Sloane Stephens, who happens to be one of only three players to beat Williams this year, at the Australian Open – the third was Azarenka. Stephens plays the 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli, of France, in the second match on No.1 Court.
Since coming back under the wing of the French Tennis Federation – she played Fed Cup for her country this year for the first time in nine years – Bartoli’s game has shown signs of restoring her to the top 10. So far she has yet to drop a set here and she won their only previous meeting, in New Haven last year.
The highest seed left in the draw is Agnieszka Radwanska, the Polish No.4, and although runner-up here last year to Williams, not many have seen her as a potential Wimbledon champion. They may do now, though. She plays the former French Open champion Li Na – who herself has surprised a few people by reaching this stage – in the opening match on Centre Court. Li has won four of their last five meetings, including one at this year’s Australian Open.
Second up on Centre Court are the 2011 champion Petra Kvitova and Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens. This will be Flipkens’s first appearance in a Grand Slam quarter-final, although she is a former Wimbledon girls’ singles champion. She, too, has yet to drop a set. How ironic it would be she were to succeed where those two great Belgian champions, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters (with whom she trains), failed and win Wimbledon.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all