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Sabine Lisicki finds favourite's mantle is no burden

A forehand played by Sabine Lisicki.
by Kate Battersby
Tuesday 2 July 2013

Is it fanciful to say that Sabine Lisicki, the new and hitherto unheralded favourite to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish, had her quarter-final won from the moment she walked on court? She positively strolled out on to a distinctly chilly Court No.1, displaying an easy confidence and leading the way as her diffident opponent Kaia Kanepi hung back several paces behind.

Lisicki, as we know to expect, was smiling the sort of relaxed, easy grin usually reserved for nothing more challenging than a Sunday afternoon barbecue with friends. She had headphones in place so she could listen to music, but she only had to glance around the stands to get an idea of the ovation which greeted her, and everybody knew why. Lisicki is, after all, forever to be known as ‘The Woman Who Beat Serena At Wimbledon 2013’. Astonishing achievements don’t come much more ovation-worthy than that.

Of course, that match was all very yesterday in the context of the quarter-finals. Not much use snapping Williams’ 34-match winning streak to create one of the all-time sporting shocks if Lisicki was then to stumble at the next hurdle against Kanepi, ranked No.46. What were the chances of that? As the boxing promoter Don King likes to say, there were two chances – slim and none... and slim just left town. Lisicki took it 6-3, 6-3 in 65 minutes, and even a passing downpour on No.1 Court in the moment of her victory could not dampen her signature smile.

“I was ready for this match,” she said. “I knew from experience I needed to make the switch quickly from beating Serena to get back to business here, and that was what I did so I’m very pleased. I feel no pressure at all. I went out to enjoy my game and win the match. It’s a game I love so much and I want to keep it that way. I thought anything was possible before the tournament started. I was as focused today as I was yesterday.”

This time the German did not need to elevate her game in the way she had against Serena, or produce the kind of fearless stuff which earned her that victory. Kanepi, whom she had never previously played, lacked invention. It was all a long way from the quality of opponent Lisicki had been required to beat to reach this stage – three Slam champions (Francesca Schiavone, Samantha Stosur and Williams) and Elena Vesnina, fresh from her tournament triumph on the Eastbourne grass.

The tone of the match was set in the very first game, which lasted five minutes and featured four deuces before Kanepi crumbled and Lisicki broke her. Lisicki’s great weapon, her serve, did its stuff (in years gone by, youthful contemporaries nicknamed her Doris Becker, ho ho), along with her forehand.

Her only mini-crisis was self-imposed, when she served two double faults to gift an early break in the second, to a ripple of astonishment around the court. But she solved that by winning four games on the bounce, and the match was never in doubt. She is through to her second semi-final in three years.

“I’m glad of that experience,” she said of her loss to Maria Sharapova. “I feel fresher and fitter now. I’m more ready this time.” 

As for that smile, she puts it down to the left ankle injury she suffered in 2010 which kept her off the Tour for five months. “I couldn’t walk and had to learn how to do that again. It made me appreciate every single moment, and having two healthy legs. On crutches you can’t carry anything and need someone’s help all the time. Being back on the court and going further than before the injury gives you a lot of strength.

“And I’m also very thankful to have my hobby as a job – travelling around, meeting different cultures, and especially playing the biggest stadiums in the world when they’re full, that’s what I love the most. Wimbledon is where I’ve achieved the most and I have a lot of support. I just love stepping out on that court here.”

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