Question: What is more dangerous than playing someone who has nothing to lose? Answer: Someone who has been given a second chance in life, maybe. It’s a theory that Agnieszka Radwanska and Marion Bartoli would do well not to dwell on too much in their respective semi-finals in the ladies’ singles today.
Serena Williams, the reigning champion, had the misfortune to come up against somebody who held both those cards in her hand in the fourth round in Sabine Lisicki, which may help to explain the American’s surprise demise. Radwanska is no Serena so the burden of expectation won’t be an issue against Lisicki in the second match on Centre Court, but she could find herself facing someone who is swinging with some freedom – as could Bartoli in the opening match against Belgium’s unfancied Kirsten Flipkens
What none of the four players will need telling is that this is a great opportunity to realise their dreams of becoming a Grand Slam champion - and a Wimbledon champion furthermore – for the first time, maybe the only time in their life. Who knows when such an opportunity will present itself again, when none of the top three players in the world - Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova – is around at the business end of a Grand Slam.
Both Radwanska and Bartoli have the slight advantage of having played in a Grand Slam final before, but it’s unlikely to make them feel as loose as a player who has come back from career-threatening injuries or illness, as both Lisicki and Flipkens have done. In the case of the latter, it was almost life-threatening.
The wrist and debilitating knee injuries that the Belgian suffered were nothing compared to what happened to her in April last year when she was diagnosed with blood clots in her calf after a long haul flight from Thailand. “You start re-evaluating everything,” said Flipkens. “Winning or losing a tennis match, it doesn’t make much difference.”
As for Lisicki, she suffered a serious ankle injury at the 2009 US Open that not only kept her out of the game for five months but meant that she had to learn how to walk over again. “Tennis is for me joy, nothing less than that,” said Lisicki, which is evident from the smile she wears through thick and thin.
Germany has been desperate for a successor to Steffi Graf, but supposedly didn’t take kindly to Lisicki predicting she would become No.1 in the world one day when all she had done was beaten Dinara Safina in the first round of the 2008 Australian Open. They may have to start taking her seriously soon, though.
The daughter of Polish parents, her match against the born and bred Pole Radwanska should provide a wonderful contrast in styles – not exactly brawn against brain but certainly power versus finesse. Movement is key to anyone’s game on grass but particularly important, it seems, to Radwanska, who doesn’t possess her opponent’s weight of shot or serve. With her quadriceps, back and thigh taped, one half expects her to fall apart at any moment. “I think there’s no limit to how much pain I have to feel to give up,” she assured her fans.
Bartoli meanwhile is a player of fierce determination who, with her low centre of gravity, can generate great power on her backhand wing. Her service action, which was derided in the 2007 final against Venus Williams, has improved, too, and the 28-year-old is coming back to the form that once saw her make the top 10. She is the only one of the four semi-finalists who has yet to drop a set.
The bespectacled Flipkens spent much of her early career in the shadow of fellow Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. This is her chance to hog the limelight with a little help from the latter, who is now her practice partner. Clijsters should have a few tips for her on how to beat Bartoli, too, because she only ever lost to her once and that was when she was forced to retire.
Whatever havoc may have been caused to the seedings in the gentlemen’s and women’s singles, it’s pretty much as you were in the men’s doubles. Mike and Bob Bryan, the top seeds, will be one step away from becoming the first pair to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time if they can beat Rohan Bopanna, of India, and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, of France, in the opening match on No.1 Court.
The twins are also aiming to complete a “Golden Bryan Slam”, as they won the gold medal, too, at the London 2012 Olympic Games. In the final they could find themselves up against Leander Paes, of India, and Radek Stepanek, of the Czech Republic, who beat the Americans when they won their first Grand Slam title together at the 2012 Australian Open. Paes and Stepanek play Ivan Dodig, of Croatia, and Marcelo Melo, of Brazil, in the other semi-final, on No.2 Court.
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