It was inevitable that Sabine Lisicki would take over the mantle of favourite for this year’s Wimbledon title after deservedly defeating not just the No.1 seed but arguably the greatest player the ladies’ game has ever known. But as we have already discovered at this curiously inverted Championships, an outrageous victory by an underdog is invariably followed by an anonymous defeat – except in the case of the sweet, smiling German that is.
The anticipated dip in performance against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi in the quarter-finals never materialised and in the semi-finals she again raised her game to defeat Agnieszka Radwanska, a player who for pure skill was probably her superior.
Should she win in her first Grand Slam final this afternoon, against France’s Marion Bartoli, it’s unlikely to make Serena Williams feel a whole lot better about being bundled unceremoniously out the door, but at least it will bring a semblance of logic to these otherwise splendidly irrational Championships.
The fact that Lisicki is allergic to grass and has to take medication for it only makes her success here all the more bizarre. But her powerful game is made for the surface and if she triumphs today on Centre Court she will be the first German winner here since Steffi Graf in 1996. Graf has been texting her support throughout the last couple of rounds and Boris Becker has cheered her with the thought that he managed to win his first final here.
Lisicki has freely admitted that the tough matches she has had at Wimbledon have worked wonderfully to her advantage because it has meant that she has been perfectly prepared to meet each and every challenge.
First-round matches are supposed to provide none too taxing starts to the Championships for seeds, but Lisicki had to find a way past the 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in hers. Next up it was Elena Vesnina, who had just won the Eastbourne title, and then the 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur. If she passes her final test today, woe betide anyone who suggests to her that she won this title by default.
Certainly Bartoli’s path to the final was smoothed by the removal from her half of the draw of the No.2 seed Victoria Azarenka, the No.3 seed Maria Sharapova and the 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The highest seed she has beaten is the No.17, Sloane Stephens, in the quarter-finals, but, as they like to say in football, you can only beat what’s placed in front of you and Bartoli has beaten it comprehensively, without dropping a set.
As a former finalist, she obviously has the pedigree, but she had given no inkling that she was capable of such a run – indeed she hadn’t won more than two consecutive matches all year before she arrived at SW19. Now she has won six. Her early season was disrupted by injury and changes of coach, including a split with her father – her lifelong coach. Injury and illness wrecked her build-up to these Championships.
But here her game has gone from strength to strength, although she has admitted that she will have to play “the perfect match” if she is to win her first Grand Slam. Much could depend on her ability to cope with the 120mph serves of the girl they call ‘Boom Boom Bina’, which even Williams found too hot to handle at times. As is her wont, Bartoli stood inside the baseline to receive serve from Kirsten Flipkens in the semi-final, but today the serves will be coming at her about 50 per cent faster.
She will be need to be wide awake to see them so perhaps one of her famous power naps might be in order before she takes to the court. Six years ago she had been the one to sensationally defeat the No.1 seed en route to the final, when she came from a set down to beat a rather better Belgian than Flipkens in Justine Henin. She reckoned if she played her 2007 self now she would win quite easily.
Double-handed on both wings, Bartoli is an unconventional sort of player. She will fight until the very end and she has to hope that her steadier level of play is too much for someone whose game can peak and trough.
“When people introduce me they often say: 'Marion Bartoli, the Wimbledon finalist.' It's something I'm really proud of,” she said. If things go for her today, one of the words in that introduction will need to be upgraded.
Meanwhile, in the ladies' doubles final, the No.12 seeds from Australia, Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua, will face the No.8 seeds Su-Wei Hsieh, of Taipei, and Shuai Peng, of China, before top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan attempt to hold all four majors and Olympic gold when they take on 12th seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil in the men's doubles final. One can't help but favour the history-makers.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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