Sabine Lisicki did the unthinkable this afternoon as world number one and defending champion Serena Williams was sent tumbling out of Wimbledon.
Williams, the defending champion, the five-time champion and overwhelming favourite, was dethroned by Sabine Lisicki, the energetic, tenacious young German, in one of the biggest shocks of this or any other Wimbledon.
Lisicki, watched by her mother and father, won the opening set but seemed set to fall to the inevitable Williams recovery as she was steamrollered out of the second and then went a break down in the third. But the 23-year-old fought back, broke back and then broke again to allow her to serve for the greatest victory of her career.
She missed one match point, but not the second to earn the greatest win of her career and end Williams run of 34 straight victories.
Williams was rattled by the all-action Lisicki, a player who thrives at Wimbledon and thrilled the Centre Court crowd with the forcefulness of her game. She took the first set 6-2 but Williams hauled herself back into a high-class contest, cut out the errors and won the second set 6-1 to level the match.
The contest remained rumbustiously entertaining to the last. “Shot,” yelled Williams as one Lisicki winner flew past her in the final set. A see-saw deciding set saw breaks exchanged before Williams let slip her advantage – from 3-1, 40-15 in Williams’ favour, Lisicki produced an improbable rally, finishing the match as she had begun it.
Lisciki started well, thundering her returns back at the world No 1 and making Williams move around the court, a rare sight so far in the tournament – a rare sight in any tournament. The German has enjoyed some of the best moments of her career on the grass of Wimbledon – beating Li Na en route to the semi-finals two years ago and then stunning Maria Sharapova before exiting at the quarter-final stage last year.
Her game can be hit and miss and the opening games were littered with an entertaining mix of unforced error and ferocious winners. Across the net Williams replied in thumping kind, but she too was making mistakes, unnerved by Lisicki’s early assault. One loose forehand wide handed Lisicki a break-point and then a hesitant approach to a volley that looped wide gave the first break of the match. Lisicki was on top and she took full advantage. Williams was rattled and her game became increasingly error-strewn. From 2-2 Lisicki ran away with the first set, winning game after game, taking every opportunity that came her way. After three-quarters of an hour she was a set up and looking at the biggest scalp of her career.
Her hope held into the second set as she held serve with a second serve ace to make it five straight games. Everybody knew the counter-attack would come. Williams took a deep breath, held her first service game and then it came. The champion’s usual stern-faced composure was re-installed and she promptly earned her first break of the match to love, the power, prowess and prowl back in her game. Now it was Lisicki doing the running as Williams cut out the errors – there was not one in the second set – and walloped down her serve.
Williams has lost only twice this year – to Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open and Victoria Azarenka in Doha – and fortune favoured her early in the decider. In Lisicki’s first service game, twice Williams clipped the top of the net to level the score from 15-40 before a Lisicki forehand blazed wide to present the break. But it was not game over and the two traded breaks as Lisicki refused to accept what most saw as the inevitable.
After three successive breaks, Lisicki saved three break points and then produced a second serve ace to level it at four all. That filled Lisicki with confidence and she earned two break points, winning the second as Williams volleyed long. Lisicki squandered one match point and then a third double fault handed Williams a break point. That was saved by an ace, her ninth, and soon after the match was hers.