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Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

Murrray fired a warning shot at Wimbledon.  Now can Djokovic reply?

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

The Significant Seven: Memorable Women’s Matches From the First Half of 2013

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Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women.  As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective.  (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.)  What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.

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7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9

The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished.  Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open.  Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis.  By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could.  Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity.  The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon.  For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.

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6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4

On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game.  But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1.  By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail.  When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall.  Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4.  Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner.  The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final.  It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances.  Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.

Honorable mention:  Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.

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5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5

Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began.  No, I thought not.  And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire.  To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008.  The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface.  Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different.  Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her.  She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris.  Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.

Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams

4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3

When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA.  But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry.  As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence.  The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set.  Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak.  She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third.  Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove.  (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.)  All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.

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3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0

Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well.  Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history.  For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead.  But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum.  Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket.  Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight.  She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.

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2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4

With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger.  Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal.  Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry.  A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match.  At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading.  There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors.  Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points.  The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama.  When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.

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1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3

Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top.  The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens.  When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity.  The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve.  Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries.  Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court.  But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense.  With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself.  She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.

 

Juan Martin Del Potro One to Watch; Returns for Mardy Fish and Venus Williams — The Friday Five

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By Maud Watson

Who to Watch

Juan Martin Del PotroWith Wimbledon wrapped and the summer hard court season upon us, it’s worth taking a look at some of the storylines to keep tabs on as the rest of the year unfolds.  We’ll start with who to watch, and after her run at Wimbledon, Sabine Lisicki is the player to follow on the WTA.  As previously noted, she’s got a big game, but she also possesses touch and feel and still has youth on her side.  She’s never played consistently well outside of SW19, but after breaking new ground at the All England Club by reaching the final, perhaps she’s ready to do the same at other venues across the globe.  On the men’s side, you have to like what you saw from Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon.  He gave Djokovic all he could handle before bowing out in five enthralling sets in the semifinals and after that defeat, stated he felt he was ready to be back in the mix with the Big 4.  As an added bonus, del Potro managed to engage the crowd much more by conversing with spectators and even joking throughout the course of that important match.  He may have ultimately lost that semifinal, but he won a lot of fans sure to watch him going forward.

Who Will Feel the Love

After holding her nerve to grab the opportunity of a lifetime, newly-crowned Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli deserves some serious respect.  The Frenchwoman has been better known for her quirks and some unfortunate disparaging remarks regarding her looks, but she deserves to be known for her game.  Her relentless attacking style makes her a tough customer for the game’s best – as she proved six years ago – and with the confidence that comes from winning a major, she should be solidly back in the thick of it this summer.  She also has a delightful personality that should have fans warming to her.  For the men, it’s about time Ferrer got some kudos.  He’s now in the top three, and he’s not there by accident.  He consistently shows up week in and week out and just reached his first major final a month ago in Paris.  At 31, he doesn’t have the same kind of upshot as a del Potro, but with the Spaniard likely to continue to produce throughout the remainder of 2013, it’s about time he was fully appreciated and respected for the tenacity and consistency that have played a big part in him surpassing Nadal and Federer in the rankings.

How Will They Respond?

Despite winning Roland Garros, Serena was undoubtedly unhappy to fall short at Wimbledon.  To be fair to her, Lisicki did play a great match.  But Serena also looked nervous.  It’s unclear if that had to do with fear of Lisicki’s ability or if the pressure of defending her title – and a heavy favorite to do so – was getting to her.  If it was the latter, things could get tricky for the American in the second half of 2013.  She has a boatload of points to defend thanks to a stellar second half of 2012, and particularly if she wants to maintain the top WTA ranking, the pressure will only mount.  She’s responded well to adversity before, but at 31, she’s bound to feel it a little more.  As for the ATP, it’s a tossup as to whether it’s Federer or Nadal facing more questions going into the second half of the season.  Both suffered shocking early exits at Wimbledon.  Federer is looking to get back on the horse immediately by playing a couple of European clay court tournaments before heading to North America.  How things transpire at those events will likely dictate just how freely he’s swinging as he preps for the US Open.  In regards to Nadal, it’s unclear when he will return and how much the knee may or may not be hampering him.  How his knee responds, as well as how mentally confident he feels about his game and body on the hard courts will determine just how much success he’ll enjoy the remainder of the season.

Will They Return?

The two players facing this question both represent the Stars and Stripes.  Venus Williams continues to battle a back injury and is questionable for the US Open.  It will all depend of if she is healthy enough to play a tune-up event before Flushing Meadows.  If you factor in her age and other outside interests, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if we see little to no play from her until the autumn or even 2014.  Mardy Fish is the other player struggling to make a comeback, though he is set to compete in both Atlanta and Washington DC in the coming weeks.  Fish remains upbeat about his chances of tasting success, citing the recent resurgence of veteran Tommy Haas as a point from which to draw inspiration.  But as Mardy has admitted, so many of his issues have stemmed from the mental side of things.  He’s also already suffered a couple of comebacks that have failed to get off the ground this season.  Again, at his age, you have to wonder how many setbacks he’s willing to overcome before he decides to hang it up.

Race for No. 1

It’s a three-way race on both tours.  For the WTA, it’s your top three, with Serena, Sharapova, and Azarenka the most likely candidates to finish in the top spot.  On paper, Serena has a bit of a cushion, but she has more to defend than the other two.  Still, if she stays healthy, you have to like her odds of defending the bulk of her points from 2012.  If not, with Azarenka struggling with injuries, this could prove a great opportunity for Sharapova to step it up.  On the men’s side, it’s looking like a race between Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal.  Similar to Serena, Djokovic has an apparent cushion but also has a number of points to defend.  The good news for Djokovic is that World No. 2 Murray also has a large share of points to defend, and particularly with his early loss at Wimbledon, Nadal has to log exceptional performances at a number of the bigger events throughout the remainder of 2013.  Assuming he doesn’t fall apart, Djokovic is still the favorite to finish atop the rankings.

Marion Bartoli: More Than “Still A Weirdo”

Marion Bartoli has gotten the "weirdo" label for too long; ever consider that she's one of the normal ones?

In the hours and days following Marion Bartoli’s maiden Grand Slam win, pundits and commentators have been hard at work spinning the wheel of adjectives (if not euphemisms) to describe the Frenchwoman. “Quirky.” “Eccentric.” “Unique.” All of which are ways of dancing around the word one really wants to use when opining on the veteran top tenner: “weird.”

Compared to her WTA colleagues, it’s true: Marion Bartoli is weird. While her two-handed groundstrokes set her apart from the rest on a fundamental level, Bartoli has made a career of exaggerating the sport’s fundamentals. She takes dramatic practice cuts before kangaroo jumping her way into a widely open-stance return position. She winds up to serve in a hitch-filled motion that looks more like a manual flip book of what a serve is supposed to look like. She is very aware of her surroundings, acknowledging cheering fans with an emphatic fist pump of appreciation.

Even in the context of a tournament so full of surprises and early round upsets that Wimbledon itself was re-dubbed “Wimbleweird,” Bartoli managed to stand out. Though coming into what has been her best major tournament (reaching the finals in 2007), the Frenchwoman had suffered through a middling 2013 highlighted by her decision to extricate her father from his perennial position as her coach and confidante. While bigger names went out in her half of the draw, Bartoli continued to cruise, not only reaching the final without losing a set, but also doing so without facing a top 10 player.

Against prohibitive favorite Sabine Lisicki, Bartoli continued to “weird out” those in attendance. The German had taken out two of the top four seeds, and had won three of her four matches against the Frenchwoman (including a quarterfinal encounter at the All-England Club two years ago). Yet, Lisicki crumbled under the weight of expectation, and Bartoli steadied her own nerves to play with the enthusiastic poise that has seen her conquer multiple Slam champions and reigning World No. 1s throughout her career.

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As she closed out victory with an ace and jubilantly skipped over to greet her supporters (including her father with her new hitting partner, Thomas Drouet), I began to wonder if the read on Bartoli was all wrong.

Maybe Marion is one of the normal ones.

As a player, what was weird about Bartoli, whose best results have come on grass, using her on-the-rise groundstrokes to overwhelm seven opponents en route to the title? As a person, shouldn’t the athlete who gracefully stalks about big stages seemingly immune to nerves and tension look more to viewers like the “weird” one?

In this way, Bartoli is the People’s Champion in more ways that one would think. Over the years, she has approached a game often played at immortal levels as methodically as she has uniquely, constantly trying new and better ways of competing with the game’s elite. What many deemed “rituals,” she has seen as formulas for success. Where she has shown fits of greatness, she has also shown human frailty as she struggled with various injuries that derailed potentially earlier title runs.

When she saw she could go no further with her father’s coaching earlier this year, she began opening up to other ideas, and even made amends with the French Federation after years of ostracism and alienation. Fed Cup Captain Amelie Mauresmo and teammate Kristina Mladenovic’s presence in Bartoli’s player box was proof that Bartoli had been warmly welcomed back into the fold.

With these changes came a dip in form; some may have thought her master plan had backfired, but Bartoli refused to buckle under the immediate consequences of major change. As she’s always done, she continued to work and fine-tune her team until they were as formulaic as her two-handed volleys.

In victory and in press, she was charming and unguarded, standing in stark contrast with the high-jumping cartoon character one sees between points. Her pure, unadulterated joy was very human, something we all could imagine feeling after reaching the precipice of our life’s purpose.

If there was anything “weird” about Marion Bartoli holding the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft, perhaps it had to do with the fact that, despite the changes in technology, the vast accumulation of natural (or superhuman) talent, even the steely nerves shown throughout the tennis world, a normal young woman can continue to grow, change and tinker with her game and rise to the pinnacle of her sport.

After all these years and compared to the surrounding names in the Wimbledon Compendium, Marion Bartoli may still be a “weirdo.” But her fortnight at the All-England Club proved that she was something more.

She’s one of us.

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Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on Marion Bartoli’s Magical Fortnight, and More

The most surprising pair of major finalists in recent memory.

Six of the ten Wimbledon finalists took to Centre Court on Saturday, spearheaded by a first-time women’s champion in singles.

Stage fright:  Since the start of 2010, the WTA has produced several first-time major finalists.  Some have dazzled in their debuts, such as Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros 2010, Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon 2011, and Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open 2012.  Others have competed bravely despite falling short, such as Li Na at the Australian Open 2011 and Sara Errani at Roland Garros 2012.  Still others have crumbled under the stress of the moment, and here Sabine Lisicki recalled Vera Zvonareva’s two major finals in 2010 as well as Samantha Stosur’s ill-fated Roland Garros attempt that year.  In an embarrassingly one-sided final, Lisicki held her formidable serve only once until she trailed 1-5 in the second set.  One hardly recognized the woman who had looked so bulletproof at key moments against world No. 1 Serena Williams and world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska.

Straight down the line:  Pause for a moment to think about this fact:  Marion Bartoli won the Wimbledon title without losing a set or playing a tiebreak in the tournament.  The wackiest major in recent memory found a fittingly wacky champion in one of the WTA’s most eccentric players.  Detractors will note that world No. 15 Bartoli did not face a single top-16 seed en route to the title, extremely rare at a major.  But she could defeat only the players placed in front of her, which she did with gusto.  Bartoli lost eight total games in the semifinal and final, assuring that the words “Wimbledon champion” will stand in front of her name forever.

Greatest since Seles:  Bartoli became the first French player of either gender to win a major title in singles since Amelie Mauresmo captured the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2006.  More intriguingly, she became the first woman with two-handed groundstrokes on both sides to win a major since Monica Seles in 1996.  One wonders whether more tennis parents and coaches will start to think seriously about encouraging young players to experiment with a double-fisted game.  That might not be a bad development from the viewpoint of fans.  Bartoli’s double-fisted lasers intrigue with their distinctive angles, despite their unaesthetic appearance.

Walter vindicated:  Earlier this spring, Bartoli served a deluge of double faults in a first-round loss to Coco Vandeweghe in Monterrey.  She had attempted to part ways from her equally eccentric father, Walter, only to find that she still needed his guidance.  Within a few short months of his return, Bartoli secured the defining achievement of her career.  One need not like the often overbearing Walter, or his methods, but his daughter is clearly a better player with him than without him.

Greatest since Graf:  Lisicki became the first German woman to reach a major final since Steffi Graf in 1999.  That fact might come as a surprise, considering the quantity of tennis talent that Germany has produced since then.  Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber have reached the top ten, while Julia Goerges has scored some notable upsets.  Yet none of them has done what Lisicki has, a tribute to the finalist’s raw firepower and ability to overcome injury upon injury.  One wonders whether Petkovic in particular will take heart from seeing Lisicki in the Wimbledon final as she battles her own injury woes.

The grass is greener:  In her last four Wimbledon appearances, Lisicki has recorded a runner-up appearance, a semifinal, and two quarterfinals.  She has not reached the quarterfinals at any other major in her career.  While the grass suits her game more than any other surface, Lisicki has the talent to succeed elsewhere as well.  For example, the fast court at the US Open should suit her serve.  Will she remain a snake in the grass, or can she capitalize on this success to become a consistent threat?

Rankings collateral:  Into the top eight with her title, Bartoli will start receiving more favorable draws in the coming months.  If she avoids a post-breakthrough hangover, she will have plenty of chances to consolidate her ranking in North America, where she usually excels.

Holding all the cards:  Two other finals unfolded on Centre Court today, both more competitive than the marquee match.  In the first of those, Bob and Mike Bryan claimed the men’s doubles title as they rallied from losing the first set to Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo.  This victory not only brought the Bryans their third Wimbledon but made them the first doubles team ever to hold all of the four major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously.  They stand within a US Open title of the first calendar Slam in the history of men’s doubles.

Tennis diplomacy:  In a women’s doubles draw almost as riddled with upsets as singles, eighth seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai prevailed in straight sets over the Australian duo of Casey Dellacqua and the 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty.  The champions did not face a seeded opponent until the final, where the joint triumph of Chinese Taipei citizen Hsieh and People’s Republic citizen Peng illustrated how tennis can overcome rigid national boundaries.

Question of the day:  Where does Bartoli’s triumph rank among surprise title runs in the WTA?  I would rate it as more surprising than Samantha Stosur at the 2011 US Open but less surprising than Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros 2010.

 

Sabine Lisicki’s Wimbledon Magic; History Beckons for Bryan Brothers — The Friday Five

Sabine+Lisicki+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+csqLAjHl1htx-1

By Maud Watson

Sabine+Lisicki+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+csqLAjHl1htx-1Wimbledon Magic

No matter how poor her results coming into or after Wimbledon, for that fortnight, Sabine Lisicki plays like a Top 5 talent.  She’s defeated the reigning French Open champion four of the last five years (she didn’t play in 2010), and her winning percentage against Top 10 players on the lawns of the All England Club is quite impressive.  But unlike in years past, Lisicki has managed to find enough consistency to book herself a place in her first major final.  She’s in with an excellent shot against Bartoli to produce a little more magic to claim her maiden slam title.  Irrespective of what happens Saturday, however, it will be a disappointment if Lisicki fails to follow up the rest of her season with stellar results.  She has a powerful, all-around game and far too much talent not to be vying for the game’s biggest titles on a consistent basis.  She also has an affable personality that the WTA could use right now, so here’s to hoping that this Wimbledon final is just the first of many major titles the German will be competing for.

Second Chances

In 2007, Marion Bartoli shocked Justine Henin to reach the Wimbledon final where she lost to Venus Williams.  Now, six years later, Bartoli has once again defeated a Belgian in the final four to reach a Wimbledon final where she’ll face another talent with a big serve, powerful game, and brings her best on the grass.  But things are a little different in 2013, too.  Bartoli thrashed Flipkens in the semis instead of escaping by a hair, and her opponent in the final, Lisicki, is even less experienced at this stage than her.  And despite struggling with her game for the past several months, Bartoli is looking like the Top 10 player that she can be once again.  She showed no signs of nerves in the semis, not only relentlessly attacking virtually every ball with laser-like precision, but she showed a willingness to mix it up by coming forward.  Assuming she doesn’t let the occasion get to her and is able to play at this high level on Saturday, tennis fans are going to be in for a real treat.

History Beckons

The Bryan Brothers have done almost anything there is to do in doubles, breaking records right and left.  On Saturday, they’ll have the chance to add one more feather to their caps as they vie for the Wimbledon doubles crown.  Should they win, they’ll have a “Bryan Bros.” Grand Slam and will become the first doubles duo in the Open Era to hold all four majors at once.  Also, should they taste victory in London, look out when Flushing Meadows rolls around.  The twins would then be going for a calendar-year Grand Slam, one of the rarest feats in the sport.  They’ve managed to do just about anything else in the world of doubles, so why not this?

Still Standing

For all of the dramatic upsets and withdrawals that have unfolded the last two weeks, the top two favorites in the men’s field, Djokovic and Murray, are still standing.  Both still have a little more work to do if they hope to contest the championship match on Sunday, but make no mistake, they’re heavy favorites to live up to their seeding.  On paper, Djokovic has the more difficult of the two semis, with del Potro as his opponent.  The two split meetings earlier this year, and the Argentine got the better of Djokovic on these same courts at the Olympics in 2012.  But in this semifinal, you have to figure Djokovic’s experience will prove a major X factor.  There’s also the knee issue that’s plaguing del Potro, and trying to defeat the Serb at less than 100% is a big ask.  Janowicz will also have to come up with some spectacular answers if he’s to disappoint an entire nation by upsetting Murray.  The Pole did get the better of Murray last year at the Paris Masters and has a monster serve.  He’ll also go in knowing that Murray was less than steady in his quarterfinal clash with Verdasco.  But Murray has far more experience in these situations, is the steadier of the two, especially in the mental department, and will have virtually all of the fans on the Centre Court in his corner.  Both should be entertaining affairs, but expect Djokovic and Murray to set up a blockbuster final.

The Basics

After a stunning early loss at Wimbledon, Federer appears to be going back to the drawing board.  In lieu of his usual break following the conclusion of Wimbledon, the Swiss will be adding two clay court events to his schedule.  He’s set to contest Gstaad – the tournament that offered him his first wildcard – and Hamburg, which he’s also won more than a few times in the past.  It may be interpreted by some as a troubling sign from the ageing veteran, but in many ways, Federer’s decision is one to be admired.  He’s not letting his pride get in the way, and he’s smart to try and pick up a few events between now and the summer hard court season.  He could use the rankings points, a chance to get his game clicking, and more than anything, a chance to gain some confidence.  Hopefully he’s able to get it going so that he can be fully back in the mix come the US Open.

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Semifinals in Women’s Singles and Men’s Doubles

It

At the end of a chaotic fortnight, a Wimbledon women’s final has emerged that almost nobody expected.  Here is a look at how it took shape on Thursday, and some key facts about the matchup, plus a detour into men’s doubles.

A tale of two semifinals:  Notching her sixth consecutive straight-sets victory, Marion Bartoli surrendered just three games to Kirsten Flipkens en route to her second Wimbledon final. Far more drama awaited in the three-set sequel, which brought Wimbledon patrons their money’s worth.  Extending to 9-7 in the third set, the epic clash between Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska twisted through several ebbs and flows from both players.  Each woman let opportunities slip away, and each extricated herself from danger more than once before Lisicki slammed the door.

A tale of two routes to the final:  A rare opportunity awaits Bartoli to win a major without facing any top-16 seed, any major champion, or any former No. 1.  The highest-ranked opponent to meet the world No. 15 this fortnight was No. 17 Sloane Stephens, much less experienced on these stages.  For her part, No. 23 Lisicki has upset three top-15 opponents, including two members of the top four in Serena and Radwanska.  All three of those victories came in three sets, exposing her to much more pressure than Bartoli has felt so far.

Back from the brink, again:  For the second time this tournament, Lisicki won the first set from a top-four opponent, played a dismal second, and fell behind early in the third.  For the second time, she erased that 0-3 deficit in the decider, held serve under duress late in the set, and scored the crucial break before closing out the match at the first time of asking.  The key break came at 4-4 against Serena and at 7-7 against Radwanska, both of whom played well enough to win their final sets against most opponents.  But not against this woman at this tournament.

Still Slamless: This loss may sting Agnieszka Radwanska for some time, considering the magnitude of the opportunity before her.  Not many Slam semifinal lineups will feature her as the only woman in the top 10.  The world No. 4 stood two points from a second straight Wimbledon final with Lisicki serving at 5-6 in the third set.  Radwanska would have entered that final as the clear favorite on account of her 7-0 record against Bartoli.  For all of her consistency, and all of her titles at lesser tournaments, that one major breakthrough continues to elude the Polish counterpuncher.  Once again, she will watch from the sidelines as someone with a much less impressive resume does what she cannot.

No time like the first time:  First-time major finalists have achieved some stunning results on the women’s side over the last few years.  Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka shone on their first trips to the second Saturday, both against the more established Maria Sharapova, while few can forget what Francesca Schiavone achieved during a memorable fortnight in Paris.  On the other hand, others have not risen to the occasion as well as they might have hoped in their first major final:  Sara Errani, Samantha Stosur, and Li Na among them. (Stosur and Li would find redemption with their second chances, though.)  Only a slight underdog, if an underdog at all, Lisicki should embrace the moment with her relaxed demeanor and fearless ball-striking.  She might start slowly, but she probably will not go quietly.

The magic number 23:   Both of Bartoli’s finals at majors, Wimbledon in 2007 and in 2013, have come against the 23rd seed after she defeated a Belgian in the semifinals (Henin, Flipkens).  Last time, the legendary Venus Williams held that seed, so the then-No. 18 Bartoli reached the final as a heavy underdog notwithstanding her ranking.  The double-fister has plenty of reason to fear this No. 23 seed as well, however, having lost to Lisicki at Wimbledon two years ago.

Stat of the day:  Saturday will mark just the second Wimbledon final in the 45 years of the Open era when both women seek their first major title.  The adrenaline will flow, the nerves will jangle, and somebody will walk off with the Venus Rosewater Dish who never expected to hold it a few weeks ago.

Dream alive, barely:  Switching to doubles for a moment, Bob and Mike Bryan stayed on course for a calendar Slam by reaching the Wimbledon final after winning the first two majors of 2013.  The inseparable twins have profited from the instability besetting many other doubles teams.  Nevertheless, they have won Wimbledon only twice in their career and needed five sets to escape the 14th seeds, Rohan Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Even if the Bryans do not win the US Open, they would hold all four of the major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously with one more victory, for they won their home major last fall.

Flavor of the fortnight:  Pitted against the history-seeking twins are the 12th seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, who upset Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in a five-setter of their own.  Wimbledon has featured plenty of surprise doubles champions in the last several years, such as Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen, so one should not underestimate Dodig and Melo.  The latter also defeated the Bryans in Davis Cup, albeit with a different partner on a different surface.  And Dodig has enjoyed an outstanding Wimbledon fortnight, having reached the second week in singles as well.

 

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Women’s Quarterfinals

Maybe blondes do have more fun.

For the second time in three years, Wimbledon will crown a first-time champion on the women’s side.  That development seems fitting in view of the upsets that have riddled the draw.  Here are some thoughts on the women’s quarterfinals.

Match of the day:  It spanned three and a half hours, including rain delays, medical treatment, and multiple squandered leads.  At the end of it, Agnieszka Radwanska needed eight match points to close out world No. 6 Li Na and move within one victory of a second straight Wimbledon final.  The only woman in the top 10 to reach the semifinals, Radwanska cannot expect to get a better opportunity to join the elite club of major champions.  Despite a right leg injury that bothered her enough to call a medical treatment, she will do whatever it takes to secure these last two victories.

Upset of the day:  A year ago, Kirsten Flipkens did not even make the cutoff to play Wimbledon qualifying.  Now, she has moved to the brink of the final as the 20th seed after knocking off the only former major champion left in the draw.  Down a set to Petra Kvitova, Flipkens did not crumble under the onslaught of her opponent’s superior power.  An underrated serve and a surprising poise in tight moments helped the 27-year-old Belgian topple the world No. 8 in her Centre Court debut.  Her mentor, Kim Clijsters, would be proud of how crisply she played in the final set, committing just one unforced error.

Maid Marion immaculate:  Remember when Marion Bartoli struck nearly 20 double faults in a loss to Coco Vandeweghe this spring?  Or the coaching turmoil when she dismissed her father from her team before quickly summoning him back?  That same woman has won all ten sets that she has played at Wimbledon to reach her first major semifinal since Roland Garros 2011.  By defeating a top-20 opponent, Sloane Stephens, Bartoli legitimized a hot streak that previously had scorched only third-rate challengers.  Six years have passed since Bartoli’s only major final, which also came on these lawns.  A bit of déjà vu will await if she can solve Flipkens on Thursday.

Li’s lost chance:  Serving for the first set, the world No. 6 appeared to clip a line with her serve on set point but declined to challenge.  Li ultimately lost that set in a tiebreak and received the grim news in her press conference that the serve in fact did clip the line.  A correct challenge would have given her the first set and perhaps completely changed the trajectory of the second week.

No hangover for Lisicki:  Just 24 hours after she astonished the world, the woman who halted Serena Williams recorded a more routine victory over Kaia Kanepi.  Lisicki transitioned smoothly from heavy underdog to clear favorite, reaching her second Wimbledon semifinal in three years.  Like Flipkens, and arguably like the other semifinalists as well, her game suits grass better than any other surface.  Wimbledon lacks star power near its climax, but it should feature plenty of drama and high-quality tennis as these four women vie for a prize that most thought beyond the reach of any of them.

Petra, the enigma:  She looked like a serial major champion and perennial contender when she won Wimbledon two years ago, becoming the first woman of her generation to break through at a major.  But Kvitova has not reached a major final since then and has regressed even further over the last year, losing by the quarterfinals at her last five majors.  Unlike Radwanska, she could not overcome a physical issue that forced her to seek medical attention (an apparent breathing problem).  Kvitova has the weapons of a champion but not the mind or the will at the moment.

Americans in London:  With Stephens gone, we’re down to the legendary doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.  The ageless twins moved within two victories of their third straight major title with a triple-tiebreak victory over the No. 8 seeds.  Keep an eye on the Bryans’ quest for a calendar Slam.  If they go to New York with a perfect record at majors this year, doubles could get some real attention.

Stat of the day:  The four semifinalists have reached four total major semifinals among them (Bartoli has two, Flipkens none) and two major finals (one each for Bartoli and Radwanska).

Question of the day:  Are you excited by the wide-open women’s semifinal lineup ahead?  Or uninspired by the absence of stars?

Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday

The grass snake stings, then smiles.

Monday got manic in a hurry with a titanic upset in the women’s draw, only to settle down into more predictable outcomes for most of the day.  Catch up on any of the fourth-round action that you may have missed with the daily Wimbledon rewind.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Twists and turns pervaded the clash of rising star Jerzy Janowicz and grizzled veteran Jurgen Melzer.  In the intimate surroundings of Court 12, Melzer started the match on fire but gradually lost his momentum in the second set and later trailed two sets to one.  Able to rally in the fourth, he secured a clutch break in the tenth game to force a deciding set.  With his first major quarterfinal on the line, though, Janowicz refused to let the opportunity escape him as he edged across the finish line 6-4 in the fifth.

Comeback of the day:  The other half of an all-Polish men’s quarterfinal, Lukas Kubot trailed Adrian Mannarino by a set and later by two sets to one in the most important match of his career so far.  Nobody would have expected Kubot to reach a major quarterfinal in singles, yet he wrested away this five-set encounter from his fellow journeyman.  His semifinal chances may hinge on whether Janowicz or he can recover from their draining victories more efficiently.

Upset of the day:  None.  Tomas Berdych deserves credit for snuffing out the most plausible upset threat in Bernard Tomic.  Splitting the first two sets in tiebreaks, Berdych gradually asserted himself against the Aussie talent in the next two sets and avoided the nerve-jangling scenario of a fifth set.

Gold star:  Before 2013, Juan Martin Del Potro never had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.  This year, he has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set.  Del Potro overcame a knee injury to defeat Andreas Seppi after wondering whether he would be fit to play on Monday.  Despite all of the surprises at Wimbledon this year, all of the top-eight seeds in the men’s top half reached the quarterfinals.

Silver star:  Winless in two previous grass meetings with Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic seized control of the third from the outset and never let the veteran catch his breath.  Like Del Potro, Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the quarterfinals, but this victory impressed more than those that came before because of his history against Haas.  He will seek his fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal, not bad for a man whose worst surface is grass.

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  World No. 4 David Ferrer has not won any of his four matches in straight sets, three of them against unseeded opponents.  Struggling with a painful ankle injury, Ferrer fell behind early again on Monday before dominating the latter stages of the match, as he had in the third round.  Wimbledon is the only major where he has not reached the semifinals, so he will aim to end that futility by repeating last year’s victory there over Del Potro.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  Even with Nadal’s early exit, two Spaniards reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Joining Ferrer there was Fernando Verdasco, who rolled past Kenny de Schepper in straight sets.

Stat of the day: In addition to Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s draw, the quarterfinal appearances of Kubot and Janowicz gave Poland more Wimbledon quarterfinalists than any other nation.

Question of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray again took care of business efficiently today, dispatching 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Can Murray continue his uneventful progress to the final, his path barred only by Verdasco and one of the Poles?  Or will the escalating pressure of the second week lead to some unexpected drama in the bottom half?

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of the greatest grass specialists in WTA history, Sabine Lisicki reached her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal by shocking heavy title favorite, defending champion, and world No. 1 Serena Williams in three sets.  Serena had not looked as sharp in the first week as she had at Roland Garros, but one expected her to prevail once she recovered from a dismal first set.  The defending champion dominated Lisicki in the second set and rolled to an early lead in the third, at which point many underdogs might have surrendered.  Lisicki is a different player on this court than she is anywhere else, though, and she swung freely with the match in the balance at 4-4 in the final set.  Hitting through her nerves and a staggering Serena, she scored perhaps the biggest upset in an upset-riddled draw.

Comeback of the day:  When Tsvetana Pironkova claimed the first set from Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon suddenly looked in danger of losing all of the top five women before the quarterfinals.  But grass specialists would split their two meetings with top-four seeds on Monday as Radwanska ground through a second straight three-set victory.  As has been the case with much of her 2013 campaign, she has not shown her best form while doing just enough to win.

Gold star:  Li Na had survived consecutive three-setters to end the first week, including an 8-6 epic against Klara Zakopalova.  She needed to fasten her teeth into the tournament more firmly, and she did by losing just two games to the 11th seed, Roberta Vinci.  Having defeated Radwanska in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Li will hope to repeat the feat in a Tuesday match between the two highest-ranked women remaining in the draw.

Silver star:  Only one woman has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set or playing a tiebreak.  Take a bow, world No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who has threatened only occasionally at majors since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2007.  Granted, Bartoli has faced no opponent in the top 50 to this stage.  She participated in a bloodbath of Italians by ousting Karin Knapp for the loss of just five games.  (None of the four Italians who reached the fourth round won a set on Manic Monday.)

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  The only former Wimbledon champion left in the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova had dropped sets in both of her first-week victories and easily could have done so again on Monday.  Former nemesis Carla Suarez Navarro took Kvitova to a first-set tiebreak and the brink of an emotional meltdown, but the Czech steadied herself once she survived it.  Kvitova can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Kirsten Flipkens, also fortunate to avoid losing a first set for which her opponent served twice.  Flipkens won their previous meeting this year in Miami.

All eyes on Andy:  A round after she upset Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi sent home local darling Laura Robson in two tight sets.  The match could have tilted in either direction, so Kanepi’s experience probably proved vital in securing her second Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.  She also earned the last laugh on British tabloids that lampooned her burly physique before the Robson match.

Americans in London:  In the wake of Serena’s loss, the United States plausibly might have gone home without a single quarterfinalist in either singles draw.  Sloane Stephens averted that disappointment by winning a second straight three-setter, this time against Monica Puig.  Trailing by a set, Stephens showed resilience in battling through a tight second set and then dominating the third.  She has won twelve matches at majors this year, more than many higher-ranked women.

Stat of the day: In Lisicki’s last four Wimbledon appearances, she has defeated the current Roland Garros champion every time.  Her repeated denials of Channel Slams protect a record held by compatriot Steffi Graf, who completed the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double four times.

Question of the day:  The first three majors will crown three different women’s champions for the third straight year.  With all of the top three gone before the quarterfinals, who becomes the new title favorite?  One might favor Kvitova, the only woman who has won here before, but conventional wisdom has taken it on the chin all fortnight.

 

Wimbledon Ladies Quarterfinals Preview: Will History Be Made?

WTA Wimbledon Quarterfinals Lisicki, Radwanska, Kvitova, Li

(July 1, 2013) What a week at Wimbledon. If your women’s draw predictions have somehow upheld to the quarterfinal stage, sincere congratulations. If your draw includes only two of the eight correct names, like mine, don’t worry. You’re in the majority. The shake-up at this year’s Wimbledon Championships has been an unprecedented event, and the draw has opened up drastically to allow a first-time winner to take the title.

Current oddmakers have Sabine Lisicki as the top contender for the title, followed by 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2011 French Open champion Li Na. Last year’s Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens round out the top 5.

Let’s take a further look at the four quarterfinal matchups and how the ladies stack up against each other.

Sabine Lisicki vs Kaia Kanepi Wimbledon[23] Sabine Lisicki vs Kaia Kanepi

  • First career meeting
  • Plays winner of Radwanska-Li
  • Best previous Wimbledon result - Lisicki: 2011 SF (as a wildcard); Kanepi: 2010 QF (as a qualifier)

With Lisicki’s surprise defeat of Serena Williams in the fourth round, the German is now 17-4 at Wimbledon (compared to 16-15 at the other Slams). She also now has the distinct honor of having beaten the reigning French Open champ at the last four Wimbledon Championships she has played, including Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li Na in 2011, Maria Sharapova in 2012, and Williams this year. She did not play in 2010.

Lisicki has been looking sharp all week on her favorite surface, overpowering with her serve and improving her footwork and movement with each match. She only lost seven total games in the first two matches against Francesca Schiavone and Elena Vesnina. Sam Stosur pushed her in the third round, but she rallied back from a 6-4 first set deficit to take the next 12-of-15 games.

Kanepi, though the underdog, is in her fifth Slam quarterfinal over the last five years. She was mere points away from being defeated by Angelique Kerber in the second round here at Wimbledon, but came back to win 6-3 in the third. While two of Kanepi’s matches were against wildcards ranked outside of the top 100, Lisicki has had to come through two singles Slam champions (Schiavone and Stosur) and one doubles Slam champion (Vesnina).

Result: Lisicki in straight sets

Agnieszka Radwanska vs Na Li Wimbledon[4] Agnieszka Radwanska vs [6] Na Li

  • Li leads 6-4, but Radwanska leads 2-1 on grass
  • Plays winner of Lisicki-Kanepi
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Radwanska: 2012 F; Li: 2006, 2010 QF

Despite many of the women’s top seeds falling early, this quarter is the only one with its top seeds still intact, and last year’s finalist, Radwanska, comes in as a slight favorite. The Pole was not tested until her last two rounds against Madison Keys and grass-court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, which both went the full three sets. Her execution and court coverage have stayed consistent, and her crafty game has taken full advantage of the low bounce.

Though Li was pitted by some as crashing out early, she has kept her composure while many seeds fell and is the oldest player left in the draw. Her rollercoaster match against newly-resurgent Simona Halep in the second round gave way to another topsy-turvy match against No. 32 seed Klara Zakopalova, before she finally easily closed out Roberta Vinci in 55 minutes. She hasn’t had any remarkable play thus far and has flown under the radar, but it could be a tight match.

Results: Radwanska in three sets

Marion Bartoli vs Sloane Stephens Wimbledon[15] Marion Bartoli vs [17] Sloane Stephens

  • Bartoli leads 1-0, on hard
  • Plays winner of Kvitova-Flipkens
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Bartoli: 2007 F; Stephens: 2012 Third Round

Other than Kirsten Flipkens, Bartoli is the only other player left in the draw that has yet to lose a set this Wimbledon, the Slam where she saw her best results by reaching the final in 2007 losing to Venus Williams. Her quirky game has been relegated to the smaller outside courts this week, but she is sure to give the American trouble with her variety especially in the spotlight. The French woman is making her 47th Slam appearance which dates back to 2002, and is in her third quarterfinal at Wimbledon. When on, her game can trouble even players at the top of the game, as evidenced by her brutal defeat of Petra Kvitova at last year’s US Open, so Stephens needs to come out swinging.

As the last American left in the draw (who would have guessed that last Monday?), Stephens has reached the fourth round or better in her last three Slams. Three of her first four matches went the distance, with two coming down to the wire against Andrea Petkovic and Petra Cetkovska. Her game is powerful yet still developing, and her play in the third set against Monica Puig on Monday was on another level. Stephens has risen to the challenge and her focus and endurance will surely be tested against Bartoli.

Results: Bartoli in three sets

Petra Kvitova vs Kirsten Flipkens Wimbledon[8] Petra Kvitova vs [20] Kirsten Flipkens

  • Flipkens leads 2-1, all on hard
  • Plays winner of Bartoli-Stephens
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Kvitova: 2011 Winner; Flipkens: 2009 Third Round

Kvitova may be the only past winner left in the draw, but she has not been looking as sharp over the last year. Her play at time has been questionable, but she managed to overcome a near-upset in the first round here against world No. 108 CoCo Vandeweghe, with a 7-5 win in the third set. Since then, she has shown flashes of her tennis genius but it has been wildly inconsistent.

Flipkens, possibly the biggest surprise quarterfinalists, had never been past the third round of a Slam before this year’s Australian Open. With new mentor Kim Clijsters in tow and a renewed fitness and ball-striking ability, the Belgian came from being ranked 175 during this time last year and not even playing Wimbledon, to reaching her first Slam quarterfinal and sitting at a career-high No. 20. Despite the strong showing, her draw has been rather light, playing No. 90 Yulia Putintseva, No. 97 Vesna Dolonc, No. 39 Bojana Jovanovski and No. 166 Flavia Pennetta who used her protected ranking. It may just be the end of the road for her.

Results: Kvitova in straight sets

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