WIMBLEDON, England — Here is what we know for certain about Saturday’s final between No. 15 Marion Bartoli and No. 23 Sabine Lisicki: Commentators will search their thesauruses for creative ways to describe Bartoli’s eccentricity, both on and off the court. There will be many references to Lisicki’s penchant for smiling. And after the last ball is struck, Wimbledon will crown a first-time Grand Slam champion.
Aside from that, just about everything is up in the air. It’s been that kind of tournament, and both players — two of the most intense competitors in the game — have good reason to like their chances of winning.
Lisicki is considered the favorite after navigating a very difficult draw to make her first major final. She beat one-time Slam champions Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur, 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and, of course, the biggest scalp in women’s tennis, Serena Williams. The 23-year-old German is battle-tested, too, having defeated Stosur (in the third round), Williams (fourth) and Radwanska (semifinals) in three-setters, and she rallied from 0-3 down in the third set against both Radwanska and five-time champion Williams.
But then there’s the issue of experience. This is Lisicki’s first final at the tournament she adores. The 28-year-old Bartoli, meanwhile, made the Wimbledon final in 2007, losing to Venus Williams.
“Sabine has played some amazing tennis so far,” Bartoli said Friday. “She might be too good for me tomorrow, as well. I think having the advantage of playing a final already will help me dealing with my nerves. But then, of course, I have to deal with her level of game, which is also very hard to deal with.”
Bartoli has had an easier path to the final. She hasn’t lost a set yet, but the highest-ranked player she faced was No. 17 Sloane Stephens, who struggled on serve in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to the Frenchwoman in the quarterfinals. That said, Bartoli played her best match of the tournament in crushing No. 20 Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals. It was a wonderful display of all-court tennis from Bartoli, who overwhelmed Flipkens with her power as well as her finesse, lobbing her from the baseline repeatedly with ease.
Lisicki and Bartoli have split their two meetings at Wimbledon. Bartoli won 6-2, 6-4 in the 2008 first round, and Lisicki won 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1 in the 2011 quarterfinals.
“I think, first of all, it will be a battle of nerves and who is able to come up with the best game on that day,” Bartoli said. “A final of a Grand Slam is always a matter of details. Maybe a point here, a point there will make the difference. Maybe someone who is a bit more gutsy than the other player, someone who is having a better day than the others. We are very close in terms of level. It will be, I’m sure, a pretty good match.”
Lisicki is the bigger hitter off the ground from a pure power standpoint; she hits a heavy ball off the forehand side. Bartoli generates her pace by taking the ball on the rise and hitting it flat through the court, a perfect stroke on grass. Where their games differ is in their serves and defensive capability. Lisicki has a serve as big as Serena’s, and if it’s on, she can be nearly impossible to break. She’s also quicker than Bartoli, something she displayed in beating Williams and Radwanska. Lisicki is reading the game incredibly well, and if she plays to her abilities, she has the edge.
Lisicki can be her own worst enemy because she’s still prone to patches of unforced errors, as she showed while losing nine consecutive games to Williams and six in a row to Radwanska. But Lisicki doesn’t seem bothered when the mistakes start coming. There is no panic, only a resolve to keep firing away until she regains her range.
“When I arrived here at the tournament, I just said that anything’s possible,” Lisicki said after beating Radwanska. “That’s what I believed; I still do. I came to win every match that I walk on the court for, and that’s what I’ve done so far. So I’m looking forward to Saturday.”
Much will be made of Lisicki’s expressive personality when the match gets underway. Yes, she smiles a lot on the court. And, yes, she cries a lot after both wins and losses. But beneath all those teeth and tears is a stone-cold competitor. Because of injuries, she’s been playing catch-up with other players from her generation such as Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Radwanska. But she believes she deserves to be in the top five — her career-high ranking is No. 12 — and that chip on her shoulder fuels her competitive fire.
“Three years ago when I couldn’t walk,” Lisicki said, referring to an ankle injury in 2010 that put her on crutches, “I had to learn how to walk again, and that made me appreciate every single moment out there a lot more. That’s why I don’t let anybody take that away from me.”
If there’s anyone who can take it away from Lisicki, Bartoli is a good bet. Bartoli is feeling upbeat again after enduring personal turmoil in recent months.
“I believe that what does not kill you makes you stronger, and I just was able to come back stronger,” Bartoli said, referring to an off-court issue on which she declined to elaborate. “Now I’m just so happy again and so smiley. I’m having a great time off the court. I’m having an awesome time on the court. Everything is perfect again.”
Prediction: Lisicki in three sets.