Lesser lights to contest Wimbledon women's semi-finals

As the stars fail, so the spotlight falls on the lesser lights who are now within touching distance of a crown that had looked unreachable

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 4:10am

The leading ladies have exited stage left but the understudies have kept this most volatile of Wimbledon scripts bubbling along to ensure a new name will be engraved on the trophy come Saturday.

Emerging from a quarter-final line-up featuring women from eight different nations and with just two grand-slam titles between them were Sabine Lisicki, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and, most surprising of all, Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

Lisicki beat unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3 to prove that Monday's shock victory over red-hot favourite Serena Williams was no flash in the pan.

Fourth seed Radwanska, last year's runner-up, outlasted China's Li Na in an absorbing three-set battle before the unorthodox Bartoli beat American upstart Sloane Stephens 6-4, 7-5 and Belgian Flipkens reached her first grand-slam semi-final by defeating 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in three sets.

Lisicki, trying to become Germany's first grand slam singles champion since Steffi Graf in 1996, will take on fourth seed Radwanska today, while Flipkens, languishing at 262nd in the world a year ago, will play 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Bartoli.

After the demise of so many fancied players, opportunity is knocking loudly for one of them.

"It's not exactly what we were planning on," nine-times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova said. "But it's the best opportunity ever for one of them. It's great we'll have a new champion and it just shows that this sport can be so unpredictable.

"Serena was the favourite now we'll have a new winner."

Navratilova picked out Lisicki as her tip for the title and the way the world No 24 dismantled Kanepi a day after stunning five-times champion Williams shows the momentum appears to be with the big-serving German, a semi-finalist two years ago.

Until Tuesday the giant-slayers had had short shelf lives with Steve Darcis, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Michelle Larcher de Brito - who took out Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova respectively - all failing to last another round.

Not so Lisicki, who needed only 65 minutes for victory.

"I feel much fresher, fitter, better than two years ago," said Lisicki, who lost to Sharapova in the 2011 semi-finals. "I was just as focused as yesterday because ... I knew it was going to be tough after yesterday to just keep the level up.

"But I think I did a very good job to go for my shots and play smart. It had to be a different game today."

Radwanska and former French Open winner Li produced two hours and 43 minutes of enthralling action in a Centre Court match that finished under cover after rain interruptions.

Great improviser Radwanska, one of three Poles to reach the singles quarter-finals here, showed incredible resistance to win points that seemed beyond her during a 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-2 win over the Chinese.

She even played one contorted backhand winner from a sitting position during the heat of battle and needed eight match points to claim only her second win in nine grand-slam quarter-finals.

"From the first point to the last it was a really great battle," said Radwanska, who saved four set points before winning the opening set.

She needed an injury time-out after Li stormed back from 4-2 down in the second set with some aggressive tennis and played the decider with bandages on both thighs. "It's been really tough," she said. "My legs are a bit over-used but I'll do everything in my power to be ready."

A quarter-final line-up lacking the A-listers had prompted some scornful headlines.

However, the novelty factor added to the intrigue and fans flocking into the grounds reading up on the merits of Stephens and a Belgian nicknamed "Flipper" were provided with a refreshing variety of styles.

There was also an absence of the grunts and shrieks that often get louder and louder at the business end of grand slams.

American Stephens, the 17th seed, is being tipped as the natural successor to Williams but against idiosyncratic Frenchwoman Bartoli, whose punchy ground strokes are tailor-made for grass, her inexperience was exposed.

Bartoli angered the Court One crowd by refusing to play in light rain when Stephens served to stay in the first set and after a lengthy break returned to move ahead.

Stephens was broken to love three times in a second set containing eight consecutive service breaks and double-faulted when serving at 5-6 to help Bartoli over the finishing line.

Flipkens, who is short-sighted and plays in glasses, slipped down the rankings last year after suffering blood clots in her legs but has soared back up the standings this year.

Serving beautifully and showing no nerves in her first grand-slam quarter-final the Belgian 20th seed recovered from being out-hit by left-handed Czech Kvitova to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

"It's amazing, more than a dream coming true," said Flipkens, who became the first Belgian to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals since Justine Henin in 2007. "Semi-finals of a grand slam, ridiculous. Last year I didn't get into qualifying of Wimbledon."