By Pritha Sarkar
NO one would have guessed that Sabine Lisicki is allergic to grass as she joyfully rolled on the most famous rectangle of turf after surviving a heart-pumping, nerve-jangling epic to set up a mind-boggling Wimbledon final against Marion Bartoli.
A final that had odds of 1,500-1 at the start of the tournament became a reality on a hot and sticky Thursday afternoon as Lisicki, relying on a thunderbolt serve and sheer force of will, ended the brave resistance of Agnieszka Radwanska with a 6-4 2-6 9-7 win.
Bartoli’s tactics were more unconventional as the French 15th seed enjoyed a 20-minute power nap shortly before her semi-final and woke up to inflict a 6-1 6-2 nightmare on Belgian outsider Kirsten Flipkens.
Fans who might have been feeling short-changed following Bartoli’s 63-minute demolition job having forked out $150 for a ticket certainly got their money’s worth of drama and dazzling court craft as Lisicki showed the fight that helped her to jettison Serena Williams in the fourth round.
The German 23rd seed showed why she had an 18-4 win-loss record at the All England Club – but 16-15 at the other slams – as she clawed back from 3-0 down to win the longest third set in a women’s semi-final since Conchita Martinez squeezed past Lori McNeil 10-8 in 1994.
After outlasting last year’s runner-up and fourth seed Radwanska in a two hour 18 minute sweat-fest, Lisicki could not stop beaming.
“It was unbelievable, the last few games were so exciting. Agnieszka played so well, it was a battle and I’m so happy to have won it,” said Lisicki whose smile has lit up a Wimbledon full of shocks and surprises.
“I was just fighting for every single point out there. I didn’t know how it would end, I fought with all my heart but I believed I could win no matter what the score was.”
Lisicki’s calm and poised demeanour was in stark contrast to the strange on-court mannerisms of Bartoli.
Throughout the contest, the 28-year-old could not stand, or even sit, still for 10 seconds.
In between points she was a bundle of energy, practising air shots as she bounced around like a hyperactive toddler and she repeatedly kissed the bands on her right and left wrists.
The body language might have been unorthodox and some of her shots were equally eccentric but that did not stop her from seeing “the ball like a football” and she stands one match away from emulating countrywoman Amelie Mauresmo’s 2006 success.
Flipkens, who suffered life-threatening blood clots 14 months ago and defied doctors orders to get her career back on track, admitted she had been powerless.
“I had to play 500 percent to beat Marion today,” said the bespectacled Belgian.
“I tried my slices. She didn’t have any problem with that. I tried the dropshot. She got it. I played a passing shot, she came to the net. I tried a lob. I tried everything. She was just too good,” added Flipkens who had to take an injury time out while trailing 3-0 in the second set to get her already-strapped knee retaped.
Radwanska, the only top-four player to fulfil her seeding, emerged on to Centre Court with so much strapping above both knees it appeared as if her thighs had been mummified.
That did not hamper her movement, though, until she came unstuck at 3-3 in the first set when she went down 0-40. After saving three break points, the Pole was thrown off balance by a cruel netcord and her reflex volley bounced long.
That allowed Lisicki to bag the set but with the temperature soaring, the German wilted under a barrage of winners and she lost nine of 10 games to fall 3-0 behind in the third set – an all-too-familiar scenario as she had also trailed Williams by the same score.
However, a woman who suffered a career-threatening ankle injury in 2010 knew that “anything is possible after learning how to walk again” and she started nibbling away at Radwanska’s lead before drawing level at 3-3.
Told to ‘go for it’ in a text sent by Steffi Graf, the last German to win a major at Wimbledon in 1996, Lisicki followed the advice and at 5-4 she was served for a place in the final.
However, a match of so many twists and turns still failed to reach its conclusion as Lisicki’s nerves got to her when she whipped a lob long on break point down.
However, the German onslaught continued at such a pace that the giant Centre Court scoreboard went blank and an out-positioned Radwanska tossed her racket after an astonishing Lisicki forehand winner.
The contest ebbed and flowed to 6-6 and 7-7 before Lisicki broke again for an 8-7 lead when her opponent fired a forehand volley long.
A player who thrived on grabbing second chances made no mistake this time round and a blazing forehand winner left her celebrating the biggest moment of her life – at least till Saturday.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I’m a little girl. That’s why I said it’s the best place to play my first grand slam final. I couldn’t imagine any better place,” she gushed.
“I just can’t wait to play Saturday.”
By Pritha Sarkar