Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Sabine Lisicki is blazing a trail for equality at Wimbledon

Sabine Lisicki of Germany
A dejected Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland

There are a 100 condescending if not openly insulting ways of describing women's tennis, even at the highest level, but not one of them came to mind yesterday when Sabine Lisicki quickened still further her love affair with the Centre Court.

The 23-year-old German caused the greatest of all the convulsions here over the last week or so but when she knocked out Serena Williams but in the company of the vanquished Polish artist Agnieszka Radwanska she did something rather more in the two hours, 15 minutes of the 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 triumph that carried her into Saturday's final with Italy's Marion Bartoli.

Women's tennis is the anaemic, over-paid version of the men's game. It's not supposed to make the blood race. It can never compete with the majesty of a Roger Federer or the electric impact of Novak Djokovic. It is, let's be honest, taking a ride on the back of a stronger, bigger, more dramatic game.

Not yesterday, it wasn't. Yesterday there was only way of describing the contest which surged and swayed in one direction and then another – one which had Serena's conqueror powering in serves that went as high as 120 mph and then, when infrequently demanded, a second serve guaranteed to chasten Andy Murray.

It was an onslaught that drew in response the stunning, subtle grace of last year's finalist Radwanska and so there was no way that you could diminish this riveting semi-final.

When women's tennis gets a pat on the head it is generally on account of some delicate shot-making or notable spirit. Yesterday there was more than enough of that along with exceptional power and nerve but in the end you had to say there was a colossal collision between superbly equipped opponents.

If there was any poignancy at all at the end in was in the classic division of rewards.

Lisicki, who said before the match with the 24-year-old fourth ranked Radwanska that she just loved to step on to the Centre Court, had everything, the near million-pound cheque guaranteed by Saturday's chore at her favourite workplace, the vibrant belief that she had mover her career into another dimension just a few years after crippling injuries and the thunderous applause of the crowd.

The 23rd seeded and 24th ranked German fell on to the turf and then threw kisses to the crowd that had supported her so warmly.

Then, after a brief handshake with Radwanska (pictured), she was once again communing with rapturous fans. By then the loser had packed up her bag and was walking away into that tunnel especially reserved for contenders who have fallen just one step away from the big fight, the big show.

She got to that peak last year before losing a three-setter to Williams and so it was not so hard to understand her sense that after another fine campaign and, arguably, some of the uplifting, instinctive tennis one view, she had been left with precisely nothing.

It wasn't true, of course, She had once again added to her reputation as one of the most arresting performers either side of the game's gender divide. But, no, she didn't hug the victor who she led 3-0 in the final set and appeared to be picking apart after absorbing all of her power. Some chided her for that brisk and solemn departure but the girl from Cracow was unrepentant when it was pointed that after such an epic encounter it would have normal for a warm embrace between winner and loser.

"I didn't feel like doing that," she said. "What should I have done instead of walking off the court? Should I have just stayed there and danced? Yes, I agree it was a very good match but you know the truth is I rather play in a bad game and win the match rather than losing after that one. The problem is that I missed some chances.

"I was a break up in the third set but you know it was just on break and she was serving very well. So the one break might have looked a big lead but really it wasn't.

"She is a very powerful player and she fought very well."

Lisicki proved her nerve in the downing of Williams and in the end yesterday it was restored to full working order after her ferocious serving and ground strokes had battered into the composure of the Pole.

When she delivered the coup-de-grace at 9-7 it was reasonable to belief that Germany was just a heart-beat or way from its first women's champion since the great days of Steffi Graf.

"She wished me luck before I went out there," said Lisicki, "She told me to go for it and that's what I did. I am so happy. I was just fighting for every point – I really did fight my heart out."

There was never a question about that. The most intriguing one was whether Radwanska could go on withstanding all that power and self-belief and finally deliver a victory born of sustained and impressive skill.

It was a compelling question in a superb collision of ambition and technique and the answer was in doubt almost to the last stroke. Lisicki claimed the final place that was the great promise of her triumph over the women who owned 16 Grand Slam titles. Radwanska walked away with nothing.

Yet that would never be true as look as the quality this match was remembered. She had played a wonderful game beyond even a hint of faint praise.

If anyone tells you women can't really play tennis, just mention Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska. There can be no answer to that.

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