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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wimbledon: Sweet Victory for Sabine Lisicki

Many in my circle of tennis friends thought I was foolish for predicting an upset in Li Na's second round match, but then again, many of those friends aren't familiar with Sabine Lisicki.

Lisicki def. Li 3-6, 6-4, 8-6
AP Photo Credit
When the German-Polish Lisicki stepped onto Centre Court today, I was thrilled beyond belief. Would the match live up to its expectations? Or would Li trample Lisicki's dreams of a comeback in straight sets? The first six games were all held convincingly, but Li Na was not to be outdone, earning the first break of serve and taking the set at 6-3. We knew Li would come out firing, having just won her first major title in Paris, but what we didn't know was that the few aces we saw Lisicki pound down the service box would be a foreshadowing of great things to come.

There was a clear switch in momentum in the second set when Lisicki's returns began to find the court. The spunky 21-year-old spent much of the first set swinging at Li's serves with misguided rage, missing her marks when she should have been focusing more on getting into rallies. Her risks paid dividends, however, once she settled down, rocketing shots at the baseline from both her forehand and backhand sides. Early in the match Li had been winning over 60% on her second serve, but when that number began to plummet, Sabine took control, and despite losing her break at 5-3, she shut the door on a Li's surge, breaking and taking the set at 6-4.

Once again momentum shifted and Li Na looked to be on top. Who could bet against the Australian Open runner-up and French Open Champion when she was up a break in the final set? Not only that, but Lisicki is only just returning from her injuries, climbing back into the 60's for her world ranking after fading to 200+ due to ankle injuries. Surely Li Na could convert one of the two match points she earned on Lisicki's serve at 3-5... that is, of course, unless Lisicki could do the impossible.

Just as the crowd settled down from an eruption of applause, Lisicki stepped to the baseline to facedown the first of two match points. Sabine tossed the ball into the air and hammered it down at Li, clocking 122mph for a service winner. One match point gone. Again, Lisicki unleashed on her serve, blasting a 123mph service winner at Li's forehand. As fast as the match points had come, they were gone, and even quicker went the next two points—Lisicki swatted 124mph and 122mph aces to force Li Na to serve for it at 5-4.

Despite being up a break (and ranked fourth in the world), Li Na looked rattled as she went to serve for the match. Lisicki found her range and pushed Li back, earning a total of 32 winners in a battle that would take well over two hours. Soon, Lisicki broke back, and the match was level at 5-5, but surprisingly enough Li Na would scramble her way to another break, edging toward what had to be an inevitable victory as Lisicki sent a routine swing-volley wide.

And this is where Lisicki showed the fans watching Centre Court that she is truly back and a force to be reckoned with. She unleashed on Li's serve and broke down her forehand, commanding all momentum to break to 6-6 and then ace her way through her service game. The young star tallied a total of 17 aces on the match—a number worthy of a double take, unless of course your watching the Williams sisters. At 15-40 on what would be Li's final service game, the feisty Chinese woman knocked two unreturnable serves, reminiscent of what Lisicki had done only a few games before. But unlike Lisicki, Li was unable to keep the big serves coming.

Lisicki found her way into the rallies, pushing Li off the court with heavy strokes and earning herself a third match point. As the final Li forehand sailed wide, Lisicki dropped to her knees in joyous tears. It was a victory she deserved, and a victory she had been wanting for so long.

AP Photo Credit

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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