Don't let the smile fool you. Sabine Lisicki is the proverbial "crazy guy in the fight," at least when grass courts are involved. Perhaps the only player capable of keeping up with Serena Williams from a power-and-movement standpoint, Lisicki not only kept up, she beat Williams, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4, in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon on Monday.
Williams had won 34 consecutive matches before Monday's fight, but she battled herself early in the match, and she battled a fearless opponent late. Lisicki stood out of the way and let Williams' errors carry her early; and when Williams found her rhythm, winning nine of 10 games and taking a 3-0 lead in the third set, it appears that she would survive the same type of speed bump that Svetlana Kuznetsova provided her in the French Open quarterfinals. But once behind, Lisicki relaxed and started to out-Serena Serena. She blew aces by the five-time Wimbledon champion, and she dragged Williams from one corner of the baseline to another. She broke Williams' serve to get to 2-3, Williams broke back, and Lisicki broke again.
Down 0-40 at 3-4, Lisicki surged back to hold, broke Williams yet again, and got the opportunity to serve out the match. After missing on her first match point at 40-30, she double-faulted to create a break point, served an ace and a huge service winner to create another match point, and poked a forehand past Williams for the win.
Lisicki was shaky and in tears in her post-match interview, but really, creating chaos at Wimbledon is her modus operandi. Still just 23, she has now defeated the reigning French Open champion four times at the All-England Club -- she knocked off Kuznetsova (6-2, 7-5) in the third round in 2009, she survived match points and took out Na Li (8-6 in the third) in 2011, she whipped Maria Sharapova (6-4, 6-3) in 2012, and she survived Serena Williams on Manic Monday 2013. She has made four slam quarterfinals in her career, and they have all been at Wimbledon. She consistently wrong-footed Williams in a way that nobody had been able to do in over a year, really, and when she found a way to extend the match late, she grew tough while Williams grew tight.
Williams, meanwhile, was left to rue missed opportunities. She indeed survived an early rough patch and was three games from the quarterfinals, but she played conservative tennis late, hitting down the middle of the court, losing her depth, and slipping repeatedly, a sign that she was potentially more flat-footed than she should have been. She has lost only three times in 2013, but two of the three losses were at slams; hobbled, she fell to Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open quarterfinals, as well.
And of all the wacky tidbits we've unearthed from this year's Wimbledon championships -- most seeds to fall in the first two rounds, worst tournament for U.S. men in a century, first time Roger Federer misses a slam quarterfinal in nine years, etc. -- here's one sure to carry us through much of the summer: Stephens has made it further than Williams in two of three 2013 slams. Stephens found herself mired in a spring slump while Williams was dominating all comers, and she still needs one more win to reach the WTA Top 10. But while Williams is by all means still the superior player, Stephens has a chance to win the Wimbledon title that Williams could not. And the narrative train will certainly chug, full-speed into "out with the old, in with the new," or "changing of the guard" territory as hard court season begins in the coming weeks.
But we shouldn't think about that just yet, of course. We shouldn't ever get ahead of ourselves too much, and we certainly shouldn't in a tournament where coin flips have made as much sense as the actual results.
With seven of eight Round-of-16 matches completed, one of the following 10 players is going to win the 2013 Wimbledon championships: Agnieszka Radwanska , Na Li , Petra Kvitova , Marion Bartoli , Stephens , Kirsten Flipkens , Lisicki , Kaia Kanepi, or Tsvetana Pironkova. Total slam titles among them: two, 14 fewer than Serena Williams.
Women's tennis had, like men's tennis, grown predictable recently, with either Williams, Maria Sharapova, or Victoria Azarenka winning the last six slam titles. But the Wimbledon craziness that began last Monday with Rafael Nadal's upset loss has continued on Manic Monday. And for the second time in three slams this year, the lone American woman remaining in the field is not the one we expected.