Success at Wimbledon is arguably the pinnacle of tennis achievement for any player. But with that blessing inevitably comes a curse – the pressure to back up that result at subsequent events.
Some players relish the additional expectation and spotlight. Russian Maria Sharapova, who burst onto the scene at age 17 by winning Wimbledon, has since gone on to claim three more majors and rank at world No.1. Yet her compatriot Anna Kournikova, who at 16 reached the semi-finals at the All England Club in 1997 and appeared a star in the making, never achieved such heights again.
It’s something being wondered of the four ladies’ semi-finalists at Wimbledon this year, a group that contained its fair share of surprise packets, much like Sharapova and Kournikova all those years ago. Chief among them was Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, who until 2013 had never been beyond the third round of a major tournament.
“If you would have told me in the beginning of the tournament who was going to be with the last four, I would never say the four who are still in. I mean, yeah, okay, Agnieszka [Radwanska]. But the other three [including Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki] are a little bit of a surprise,” she said. “I think I'm the most surprising name in the last four, but I don't really care, to be honest, at this moment.”
That comment came following her defeat of No.8 seed Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals. And it’s little wonder she doesn't care, even despite her 6-1, 6-2 loss to Bartoli on Thursday. Having recovered from blood clots and a ranking that last year plummeted to No.262, she’s simply happy to be healthy and playing again, and is thus far more relaxed. This mentality has coincided with a spectacular rise into the world’s top 20.
With her Wimbledon campaign surpassing all expectations, it would be little surprise if it proved a career pinnacle for Flipkens. The 26-year-old took advantage of a wide-open draw, a luxury unlikely to be afforded at subsequent Grand Slams. And with players now more aware of what she’s capable off, she’ll no longer be underestimated.
But for the other semi-finalists, Wimbledon could prove a launch-pad to bigger things. Despite losing a thriller to Lisicki, Radwanska’s run here continued a stunning return to form that began at the French Open. The fourth seed had barely won a match on red clay until rediscovering her game in Paris and reaching the quarter-finals. And on her preferred grass, she went one better, beating Li Na in a high-quality quarter-final en route.
A Wimbledon finalist last year, Radwanska then failed to kick on, sagging to a fourth-round exit in New York and brutally defeated by Li in two US hardcourt lead-in events. But having defeated her nemesis here at Wimbledon and proving last year’s run was no fluke, her confidence will be at high levels going forward.
So too will Marion Bartoli’s. The Frenchwoman had endured a lean season until bucking the trend here in London, coasting through her first four rounds and then toughing out an impressive victory against No.17 seed Sloane Stephens, the kind of gritty performance the Frenchwoman is famous for. Following that up with a drubbing of Flipkens sent her into just her second Grand Slam final – the first came at Wimbledon in 2007.
Her mojo seemingly restored, Bartoli will hope to transfer her form to the hardcourts of North America, where she’s defending points from a quarter-final run at the 2012 US Open.
The potential fortunes of Lisicki are the most difficult to predict. She’s become a feature of the second week at the All England Club, advancing to the quarter-finals in 2009 and 2012, semifinals in 2011, and now the final. Yet she’s never surpassed the fourth round at any other major, a puzzling result given her plentiful weapons.
Perhaps the difference this year has been the aura surrounding the German. Her victories, unlike previous years, haven’t truly felt like upsets or surprises. That even includes her stunning win over world No.1 Serena Williams in round four – if anyone was going to upend the dominant Serena, it was Lisicki, an equally big hitter and server, who plays just as well on grass, and who relishes the big stage and bright spotlight. Her workmanlike over Kaia Kanepi in the quarter-finals showed no sign of a let-down. And now she’s into her first ever major final.
It’s a mental steadiness that until now has never featured prominently in her streaky performances and career results.
And for Bartoli – and all other women on tour, in fact – that could spell doom as the Championships, and season, progresses.
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