Ah yes – 0-3 down in the final set. Is there any situation Sabine Lisicki relishes more at Wimbledon 2013?
It was the foundation on which her epoch-making fourth round win over Serena Williams was built, and now she has used the same unpromising scoreline as the springboard for semi-final victory over Agnieszka Radwanska.
Having steamrollered the first set, she then lost nine out of ten games to find herself a break down in the third. Her shot selection was poor and all her potency looked to have drained away.
Yet with one bound our heroine was free, suddenly finding her touch first to level, and ultimately to win 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 in two hours and 18 minutes.
Germany has its first woman in the final since Steffi Graf in 1999, and her name is Sabine Lisicki... Doris Becker strikes again.
“I am overwhelmed, so happy,” said the debutante finalist with her signature smile. “Steffi Graf texted me good luck before the match. She told me to go for it. I fought my heart out for every single point, and believed I could still win no matter what the score was. In the third set when I was 3-0 down I told myself I had come back against Serena and I could do it again. It gave me so much confidence.
“There could be no place better to play my first Grand Slam final because I have been dreaming of being Wimbledon champion since I was a little girl. The first time I was here – I can’t remember when – I fell in love with Wimbledon. It was the place I always wanted to play. It was always my dream to play on the Centre Court and win the tournament. The whole atmosphere is so special. It’s so great to have the support of the crowd – there is no better feeling in the world to have it on that beautiful Centre Court. I feel great out there.”
Newcomers to tennis might wonder... if Lisicki can beat the unbeatable Williams, then how come her seeding matches her age – 23? Why she doesn’t beat everyone, week in and week out? How come before she beat Serena, she had lost her last five matches against top-five players? This semi-final gave the answer.
So much of this match – of any match where Lisicki is on court – hinges on what she does, rather than anything her opponent might come up with. When her game is working – her service blasting, going for her shots, finding the lines – it does not matter that her unforced error count is so high it looks like a misprint, because she easily outscores the deficit with winner after winner. So it was in the first set against Radwanska, and the Centre Court crowd who have got to know her this Wimbledon roared their appreciation.
But when the German’s game deserts her, patience is not exactly her watchword.
Just when she should be throttling back on the urge to pummel every ball, and instead waiting until a bona fide chance comes her way, she cannot resist still going for her shots. Result: the error count goes into the stratosphere, and a player such as Radwanska – among whose strengths is precisely the patience Lisicki lacks – capitalises big time.
And that is exactly what unfolded in the second set. It didn’t even happen gradually. She was 1-0 with the chance for a break when she squeaked in disbelief at sending an easy volley way long, and from there it all fell apart. Radwanska was stroking her way elegantly to a second successive SW19 final.
But Lisicki was not done. This is, after all, Wimbledon, where she thrives like nowhere else. And the prize on offer was not “merely” a place in the final, but a final offering a golden opportunity to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish, a final where she would face the No.15 seed Marion Bartoli.
Almost as an act of will, she ordered her serve back into overdrive to level from 0-3 down, then stayed in a marathon last set until she could force enough errors from Radwanska to break her. She brought up three match points in a manner suggesting the entire match had been a stroll... but when she converted the second, she collapsed to the turf and rolled over, as if literally felled by her emotions. It seemed she hardly knew what to do first – cry, smile, wave, bow or sob.
“I just can’t wait to play on Saturday,” she said. “Marion plays aggressive tennis. I have played Serena who plays aggressive too. We’ll see. Two years ago I played an amazing Wimbledon as a wildcard [where she lost to Maria Sharapova in the semis]. This time I feel much more ready for the entire tournament and I have that belief.”
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