WIMBLEDON, England — They don’t call it Manic Monday for nothing.
Sabine Lisicki stunned No. 1 Serena Williams 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 to snap the five-time champion’s 34-match winning streak and advance to her fourth consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinal (the German missed the tournament in 2010). The 23rd-ranked Lisicki out-aced and outhit Williams, who spent much of the match off balance and surprisingly tentative in her play.
After dropping the first set, Williams won nine games in a row to take the second set and open a 3-0 lead in the third. But Lisicki hung tough. It’s rare to see Williams bullied around the court and being less aggressive than her opponent, particularly on the surface that rewards her big-serving, big-hitting game, but that’s precisely what Lisicki was able to do. As Lisicki pounded away during her third-set comeback, Williams began to fall apart. She looked unsure of her shot selection and tactics, often making panicked rushes to the net or simply sticking to the baseline to react to whatever Lisicki bashed her way. That’s not the way Serena Williams wins tennis matches.
“I definitely had my opportunities and I didn’t take them,” said Williams, who converted only 5-of-16 break points compared to 5-of-8 for Lisicki. “I definitely feel like I would try [to be aggressive] at some points, then maybe I backed off a little bit at some points. I just have to know that going forward, if I want to be successful, I’m never going to do it backing off. I have to play the game I can play. For me, that’s being more aggressive.”
In last year’s title run, Williams smacked a record 102 aces (an average of almost 15 per match) and used her serve to get her out of a number of tight spots. But Williams wasn’t able to rely on the serve in crucial moments against Lisicki, who broke her three times alone in the third set and read it well enough to limit Serena to only seven aces. Lisicki hit 10 aces.
“I have to be able to serve well, especially on this court, and especially going up against such a really, really strong server like Sabine,” Williams said. “You have to be ready and willing to hold your serve. I wasn’t willing or able, probably didn’t even want to hold my serve today,” she said, sarcastically.
Peppered with questions about her flat and nervy performance, Williams noted that Lisicki is no pushover. Lisicki has a well-documented history of outperforming her ranking at Wimbledon. The 23-year-old has made the quarterfinals or better four times in five appearances, including a run to the 2011 semifinals when she was ranked No. 62.
“I don’t think it’s a huge shock,” Williams said. “She is a great player. Her ranking has no effect on what she should be. She should be ranked higher. She just has a super, super game to play well on grass.”
Lisicki, who will play unseeded Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals improved to 17-4 at Wimbledon (she’s 16-15 at the other three majors), where she’s recorded four of her five victories against top-five players. She started crying as she collapsed to the court after converting her second match point, and the tears continued to flow in her postmatch interview.
“Serena played a fantastic match,” she told the BBC. “She’s such a tough opponent. It’s just amazing feeling to win this match. The crowd was so amazing. I love this court so much. It’s such a special place for me.”
Williams’ exit leaves only two Grand Slam winners in the draw, 2011 French Open champion Li Na and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, and given their unreliable form, the tournament is now wide open. Asked who will win the title, Serena mentioned fellow American Sloane Stephens, who is into her first Wimbledon quarterfinal after defeating Monica Puig 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
“I think Sloane has a really good chance of winning,” she said. “She has a great draw. I think she can take it. It would be really nice to see her win.”
Stephens is the last American standing at a major for the second time this year, after famously upsetting Williams at the Australian Open in January. She plays No. 15 Marion Bartoli, a 2007 Wimbledon finalist, in the quarterfinals. When told that Williams liked her chances to win the title, Stephens — who cleared the air with Williams recently after criticizing her in a magazine story — kept her comments short and simple.
“Thanks,” she said. “Still, like I said, I have a ways to go. We’ll see. I’ll let you know.”
• Lisicki has now beaten the reigning French Open champion in her last four Wimbledon appearances: Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li in 2011, Maria Sharapova in 2012 and Williams in 2013.
• The match between two of the biggest servers in the game featured 10 breaks.
• Lisicki hit 35 winners to 25 for Williams.
• Williams won more points, 99-96.
• Lisicki defeated Williams for the first time in three meetings. This was their first match on grass.
• A victory would have pulled Serena even with her sister Venus for the longest winning streak since 2000 (35).
• This was Williams’ fourth defeat in 81 matches since losing in the first round of the 2012 French Open.
• Williams on the match: “She definitely played a super-aggressive game. When you’re playing and you have absolutely nothing to lose, it’s like you can really play with so much freedom and so loose. That’s how she played.” Asked the last time she could play with nothing to lose, Williams said: “In 2011, there were some matches that I felt like I really had nothing to lose because I was just starting to come back [from injury]. And I know the feeling. It was such an amazing feeling. When you’re going on a big court and playing the No. 1 player, you’re just not expected to win. It makes you play that much better.”
• Williams knew that Lisicki would cause her problems. “I feel like I had an extremely tough draw today,” Williams said. “I feel like of all the Round of 16s, I probably had the toughest one. I mean, I’ve said this, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but she’s a great grass-court player. Come on, guys, let’s get with it,” she said, snapping her fingers in the press room. “She’s excellent. She’s not a pushover. She’s a great player. To play this match in any Wimbledon on the fourth round, it’s not an easy draw.”
• Lisicki was asked whether she was going to celebrate tonight. “No,” she said. “Not yet. The tournament is not over yet.”
• Did Lisicki lose faith at all after dropping nine games in a row? “No, never.”
Lisicki is more Kvitova than Kvitova. Maddening to watch!—
Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) July 01, 2013
Raise your hand if you expected Lisicki to hold from 0-40 down that game. Anyone? Anyone? Not seeing anyone.—
Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) July 01, 2013
Wow- blown away by Lisicki- she held up under pressure and beat the defending champ and overwhelming favorite, Serena Williams. Congrats.—
Martina Navratilova (@Martina) July 01, 2013
If lisciki would play like this all year she should be top 5 for sure!—
Kim Clijsters (@Clijsterskim) July 01, 2013
Lisicki beating Serena is a boilover, but she was probably the only player who can match her serve and her physicality—
Paul McNamee (@PaulFMcNamee) July 01, 2013
I'm still shocked that Serena was pushing at the end. Not usual WIlliams, but shows that everyone is human and prone 2 nerves—
Matt Cronin (@TennisReporters) July 01, 2013
Nice parting gift from Serena to Sloane Stephens, nominating her as a potential winner now. Here, a little extra pressure before I leave. :)—
Kamakshi Tandon (@Kamakshi_Tandon) July 01, 2013