The second test is almost as hard
Sports are unfair most of the time. Seeing greatness is like heroin -- one hit, and you're completely hooked -- but most of the time, sports only tease you with greatness, especially at the individual level. Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh killed UNLV and Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, then shot 2-for-9 versus Michigan State. Cincinnati's Corey Dillon set the NFL single-game rushing record in 2000, and two weeks later, he rushed 16 times for 23 yards. Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain netted a hat trick against South Korea in the 2010 World Cup, then scored once in three matches.
Hell, even the greatest are only great in spurts. The game after Michael Jordan made six threes and shrugged his shoulders in the 1992 NBA Finals, he shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range, and his team lost at home by 11. (That he was great enough to rebound so quickly and consistently is what made him Michael Jordan.) In a team sport, you can still win games when a specific player finds a funk; when you are in an individual sport, a funk means elimination.
The tease of individual greatness is never more evident than in tennis. Steve Darcis and Sergiy Stakhovsky aren't facing off in Wednesday's men's quarterfinals just because they beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer last week. Michelle Larcher De Brito did not battle Sloane Stephens in Tuesday's women's quarterfinals simply because she was able to take down Maria Sharapova. Hundreds of players are capable of reaching a certain level in a certain match; only the elite ones do it consistently. Roger Federer making every slam quarterfinal for nine years is one of the most staggering feats in sports for this very reason; until Stakhovsky took him down last Wednesday, he never had a bad day (well, bad enough) in the first week of a slam for almost a decade. Everybody has bad days. Federer didn't for a really, really long time.
In some ways, this makes Sabine Lisicki's 6-3, 6-3 win over Kaia Kanepi in the Wimbledon quarterfinals as or more impressive than her Monday win over Serena Williams. She wasn't quite as sharp against Kanepi, and Kanepi helped her out a bit (13 winners, 23 unforced errors), but she was good enough. She took complete advantage of her opportunities (4-for-5 on break points), and she advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals for the second time.
It certainly helped that Lisicki has been here before -- this was her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal match. She's also in no way the journeymen that Stakhovsky and Darcis have been, or the still-putting-it-together youngster that Larcher De Brito is. She has been ranked as high as 12th in the world, and with her four Wimbledon wins over reigning French Open champions, she certainly has practice in the field of moving on after upsets.
Lisicki's game, like her smile, is infectious. She can both scramble and hit for power. She's got an enormous serve. Her movement is fine. She's got a game for Wimbledon, and Centre Court has been kind to her. She is easily the lower-ranked opponent in her semifinal match versus Radwanska, but are you willing to bet against her? The only test nearly as hard as pulling a major upset is winning the match after the upset; she's passed both tests, and for the second time, she'll play on the second Thursday at Wimbledon. She even gets a day off to collect herself this time.
A match befitting two top 10 players
Twenty points, 10 minutes, seven deuces. That's what it took for Agnieszka Radwanska to close out Li Na in the final game of the third set. Not only did Radwanska finally close out a 7-6, 4-6, 6-2 match on her eighth match point, but the entire quality of the match was raised with each passing match point. Radwanska didn't blow them -- Li took them.
Really, though, it was that way for much of this wonderful match. Radwanska proved to have more power than her reputation suggests, hitting 32 winners; Li, meanwhile, proved more adept at the junkyard dog mind games through which Radwanska normally thrives. She employed variety, attacking the net 71 times and hitting 58 winners (yes, with 40 errors).
Radwanska better handled the moments before and after a third-set rain delay -- she broke right before the delay and right after the match resumed -- and that gave her a cushion. But nothing came easy for either player. Both were victimized by shaky second serves, both painted the corners in rallies. And in Li's case, she repeatedly used the net cord to her advantage (not really a strategy you can consciously employ, but still).
Radwanska now draws Lisicki on Thursday. The two have played five sets, and only one was close. Lisicki took Radwanska down, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2, in Stanford in 2011; Radwanska won the rematch at Dubai in 2012, 6-2, 6-1. Lisicki didn't serve as well in either match as she has been at Wimbledon, but even when she was landing her first serve, Radwanska was able to score solid returns. But that was on hard courts, not on Lisicki's Centre Court grass. If both women play at the level they have achieved over the last couple of matches, this will be an incredible showcase for women's tennis.