Sabine Lisicki And Wildcards At Wimbledon: Three Great, Unexpected Semifinal Runs

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: Sabine Lisicki of Germany reacts to a play during her third round match againstMisaki Doi of Japan on Day Six of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 25, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Sabine Lisicki became just the third wildcard in Wimbledon history to reach the semifinals or better with her win on Tuesday. We take a look back at all three performances.

On Tuesday, Sabine Lisicki advanced to the semifinals of Wimbledon 2011 as a wildcard, an extremely rare feat at the All-England Club. In fact, since the Open Era began in 1968, only two other times has a competitor who needed a wildcard berth to enter Wimbledon been able to make it to the semifinals (or better) of the most prestigious of the grand slams. Lisicki is the third.

Here's a look at the three wildcards over the last 43 years who have been able to overcome the odds to make it to the last four at the All-England Club.

2001 -- Goran Ivanisevic (Croatia) -- Champion

It wasn't until 2001 that a wild card was able to make it late into the second week of Wimbledon. And by the time 2001 came around, big serving Goran Ivanisevic was no stranger to the business end of Wimbledon. The 30-year-old Croatian had made the finals of Wimbledon three times previously, in 1992, 1994, and 1998, losing the first to Andre Agassi and the second two to Pete Sampras. Ivanisevic had also lost in the semifinals twice, in 1990 and 1995. But eleven years after his first run to the semifinals, Ivanisevic's window of opportunity seemed long closed.

Without a single win in his previous four grand slam appearances (including an embarrassing loss in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open), Ivanisevic's ranking had dropped all the way down to No. 125, necessitating a wild card into the 2001 tournament. The All-England Club granted the wild card, which many saw as a a gesture designed to let Ivanisevic bow out of the sport at what had been the site of his biggest successes (and heartbreaks).

But Ivanisevic did not bow quickly. After beating Swedish qualifier Fredrik Jonsson in the first round, Ivanisevic upset No. 20 seed Carlos Moya in the second round. He then knocked off two fellow big servers in the third and fourth rounds, American Andy Roddick (only 18 at the time) and Briton Greg Rusedski.

By the time he reached the quarterfinals, Ivanisevic was the story of the tournament. He had the crowds fully behind him in his quarterfinal victory over No. 4 Marat Safin, and their begrudging respect during his five-set semifinal upset of their favorite son, No. 6 Tim Henman.

Facing two-time grand slam champion No. 3 Patrick Rafter in the final, Ivanisevic was again a heavy underdog. But the two fought each other evenly for hours on end, with rain and darkness pushing the final into Monday, the first time in Wimbledon history that had happened. Ivanisevic finally claimed the first break of the fifth set in the fifteenth game, and served out the championship successfully, beating Rafter 6-3, 3-6. 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 for his first Wimbledon title, winning what many considered the most exciting Wimbledon final of all time.

Ivanisevic did not defend his Wimbledon title the next year, but did receive another wild card into the tournament in 2004. He lost that year in the third round, falling to 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets.

2008 -- Zheng Jie (China) -- Semifinalist

Until Wimbledon 2008, 5'4'' Zheng Jie was known more for her success in doubles than in singles. Having won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006 in doubles, Zheng's achievements as part of a pair far outshone anything she (or any other Chinese player, for that matter) had done by themselves in singles.

But at Wimbledon 2008, that all changed.

Zheng, whose ranking had fallen to No. 133 due to ankle injuries, was granted a wild card into the singles draw based on her previous doubles successes in the tournament.

She justified the All-England Club's generosity quickly, beating No. 30 Dominika Cibulkova (an eventual 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist) in the first round. In the second round, Zheng beat another wild card, Englishwoman Elena Baltacha.

But Zheng's success reached an entirely different stratus in the third round, as she crushed recent French Open champion and world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic 61, 6-4 in the third round (a loss from which some might say that Ivanovic has never fully recovered).

Though a letdown would have been understandable, Zheng marched on, beating No. 15 Agnes Szavay in the fourth round and No. 18 Nicole Vaidisova in the quarterfinals, becoming the first wild card to make the semifinals of the Ladies' Singles draw.

Zheng's run was only stopped by No. 6 Serena Williams, who finally eliminated Zheng in an extremely competitive second set tiebreak.

Zheng made her second career grand slam semifinal at the 2010 Australian Open, but has yet to advance past the second round of Wimbledon in the three attempts since her magical run in 2008.

2011 -- Sabine Lisicki (Germany) -- Semifinalist (or better)

Though only 21-years-old, Sabine Lisicki has had a career's worth of injuries.

A badly sprained ankle during match point at the 2009 US Open saw her leave that tournament in a wheelchair, and severe cramping at the 2011 French Open saw her carried off the court on a stretcher.

With injuries causing her ranking to be well outside the top 100 at the cutoff date for entries, Lisicki needed a wild card to enter Wimbledon 2011.  The All-England Club came through for her, their decision no doubt influenced by Lisicki's impressive run at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham two weeks before, which Lisicki won without dropping a set.

That title bumped Lisicki up to No. 62 when Wimbledon 2011 began, but still left her well out of consideration for seeding at Wimbledon.

After easily dispatching Latvian Anastasija Sevastova in the first round, Lisicki drew 2011 French Open champion No. 3 Li Na in the second.  The two battled ferociously for hours, trading monster forehand winners in front of a captivated Centre Court crowd.  But it was Lisicki's serve that made the difference in the end, with aces coming in at up to 124 MPH saving match points and eventually securing a 3-6, 6-4, 8-6 upset.

It was Lisicki's second career win over the reigning French Open champion at Wimbledon, having previously upset Svetlana Kuznetsova on her way to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon 2009. 

Lisicki took care of business in each of her next two wins, knocking off Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi (who herself had eliminated the aforementioned Zheng Jie), and Czech Petra Cetkovska to make the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the second time.

And in that quarterfinal Lisicki came up big again, outlasting No. 9 Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1, showing an impressive amount of conditioning for a woman who had been carried off court due to cramping only weeks before.

No. 5 Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, is the only player standing between Lisicki and becoming the first female wild card to make the Wimbledon final.  It won't be an easy match for Lisicki by any means (especially considering the 6-1, 6-1 drubbing Sharapova put on No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova in their quarterfinal).  But since Lisicki has already won so many matches against steep historical odds, a three-time grand slam champion can't be much tougher.

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