Has there ever been a player who smiles more than Sabine Lisicki? The young German laughed her way through a rain-interrupted match on No. 1 Court today and in the end was beaming through her tears as she upset world No. 1 Maria Sharapova, 6-4 6-3.
Last year, Lisicki was a wild card when she reached the semifinals before losing to Sharapova in straight sets. This year, she is the 15th seed, and she had lost four consecutive matches since injuring her ankle in Charleston. But Lisicki’s big power game sings as sweetly as ever on grass, as she once again upset a French Open champion (last year, it was Li Na) to make it to a third Wimbledon quarterfinal.
It didn’t look likely as the match began. Sharapova smartly opted to receive and two double faults from Lisicki immediately put the German in trouble before the Russian swiped a backhand down the line to break and lead 1-0. But Lisicki’s game plan—to hit as big as she could, as early in the point as she could—immediately paid dividends, and she broke back for 1-1. Sharapova, who traditionally struggles in windy conditions, found it hard to make any impact on her serve—she hit just 13 unreturned serves to Lisicki’s 23—and the Russian swiftly went down a break after the German struck a huge forehand return.
Sharapova’s game plan seemed to be to hammer the ball down the middle of the court, depriving Lisicki—who has a tendency to pay back big cross-court angles with bigger ones—of anything to work with. In practice, she found herself scrambling at the back of the court as Lisicki took the initiative; all Sharapova’s improved movement and impressive defense couldn’t disguise the fact that she was hitting off the back foot.
Sharapova threatened as Lisicki served for the first set, making her first forehand winner off a mid-court ball and cracking a return winner of her own to get back to 4-5. But leading 40-15, a backhand error and a double fault pegged Sharapova back to deuce, and Lisicki hammered two huge returns to take the set.
As Lisicki served to open the second, she was down 15-30 before rain forced the players off the court for a 45-minute break. When they returned, it was the German who was revitalized, serving big to hold, then breaking immediately as Sharapova double-faulted twice. Sharapova did well to keep the deficit to one break, but Lisicki was mixing up her serves on first and second deliveries too well to allow her opponent to get into any returning rhythm.
Sharapova belatedly attempted to take the initiative as Lisicki served for the match, getting to 15-30, but as Lisicki boomed another ace down the T for her first match point, a poor challenge from Sharapova had a look of desperation to it. After big misses on her first two match points, Lisicki took the third with an untouchable ace down the T—on a second serve. It’s the kind of ebullient, high-risk tennis she plays, and Sharapova had no answers today other than to hope Lisicki started to miss consistently. She didn’t.