With the 2013 tennis season in the past, it's time to dole out our annual awards. Look for the winners—for better or worse—throughout this week on TENNIS.com. (To see what's been unveiled thus far, click here.)
It was the ultimate giddy ride a tennis professional can take, an unexpected trip to the Wimbledon final, and Sabine Lisicki was loving every moment of it, smiling and charming multitudes of fans. The British tabloid press, reaching deep into its bag of hyperbole, even dubbed her “The Laughing Girl from Germany.”
Unfortunately, that ride turned into a hair-raising and stomach-flipping nightmare that produced the most heart-wrenching moment of the year—Lisicki’s loss in the Wimbledon final to another surprise finalist, Marion Bartoli.
Lisicki simply froze up and played tennis that begged many of us to avert our eyes, never more so than in the middle of the second set, when the tears she’d been fighting for some time blurred her vision—the last thing she needed as she tried to forestall the inevitable Bartoli win. The match ended 6-1, 6-4, and it wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
One of the main reasons the Lisicki run garnered so much attention was her style of play. She’s 5’10” and armed with a terrific serve that she isn’t afraid to back up with the volley. Given the paucity of attacking players these days and the romance of the serve-and-volley game at Wimbledon, the-then world No. 24 had a lot of curbside appeal. Moreover, her sunny temperament and oft-professed love of the event played well with the British audience, as well as the traditionalist lurking so close to the surface in almost every tennis fan.
Best of all, Lisicki amply backed all that up with inspired, inarguably compelling tennis. She didn’t sneak in through the back door to Centre Court—she barged in. On her way, she upset Sam Stosur, top-seeded Serena Williams, and the player perhaps most capable of shooting holes in her attacks, defender par excellence Agniezska Radwanska. Her semifinal with the Pole went 9-7 in the third.
Meanwhile, Bartoli took advantage of chaos in the bottom half of the draw. The Frenchwoman's best win was over No. 17 Sloane Stephens, and her semifinal opponent was No. 20 Kirsten Flipkens. That made it easy to forget that Bartoli had been to a Wimbledon final before, in 2007. While she never backed up that performance adequately, she was still ranked nine ticks better than Lisicki at No. 15.
But Lisicki appeared to have the momentum behind her, and an eerie, almost fated atmosphere gathered around her run. Few imagined that she would falter so badly in the final, even though Bartoli’s own style was aggressive in a more contemporary sense. She gives no ground and fires lasers with two hands on the racquet on either side.
Still, that contrast in style did not determine the outcome of the match. It was decided by a combination of Bartoli’s ability to bring her A-game and Lisicki’s inability to even find her own. She was simply crushed by the weight of the occasion, as the laughs of the girl from Germany turned to tears in one of the most poignant finals in Wimbledon history.