LONDON, (Reuters) – Wimbledon entered the twilight zone yesterday as Serena Williams became the latest high-profile champion to fade into oblivion at a tournament where reputations and star status are counting for nothing.
Just when it seemed that this year’s grasscourt major had exhausted its quota of shocks with grand slam champions Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka all blotted out of the draw by the second round, along came Sabine Lisicki.
The German, playing fearless tennis, jettisoned American holder Williams 6-2 1-6 6-4 to leave Wimbledon gasping in disbelief once again.
“I’m still shaking, I’m so happy,” gulped a tearful Lisicki, who fell flat on her stomach in her moment of triumph. “It’s amazing, I love this court so much. It’s unbelievable!”
It certainly was unbelievable because even before the first-week exodus of big names, top seed Williams had been the overwhelming favourite to win a sixth title at the All England Club having triumphed at three of the last four majors.
She also walked on court on a 34-match winning streak but her exit left world number four Agnieszka Radwanska as the highest seed and Czech Petra Kvitova as the only former champion still alive in the women’s draw.
“It’s not a shock. I didn’t do what I do best,” summed up Williams, who relinquished her crown despite winning nine games on the trot to take a 3-0 lead in the final set.
While Williams was left to pack away her orange hotpants, world number 24 Lisicki proved that when she turns up at Wimbledon, her game catches fire. She has now reached at least the quarter-finals in her last four appearances.
“Sabine was on today. She’s always on against big players and big courts. She just has a super, super game to play well on grass,” added 16-times major winner Williams.
Men’s top seeds Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray also feel at home on the lush green turf and both survived second-set wobbles to stay on track for a hotly-anticipated final.
Djokovic ended the run of evergreen 35-year-old German Tommy Haas with a 6-1 6-4 7-6(4) win and Murray knocked out Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-4 7-6(5) 6-1.
Eighth seed Kvitova dispatched Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6(5) 6-3 to set up a last-eight meeting with Belgian Kirsten Flipkens and Radwanska made it a good day for Poland by outlasting Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova 4-6 6-3 6-3.
William’s downfall also meant that Sloane Stephens was the only American, man or woman, to reach the quarter-finals.
The 20-year-old lived up to her billing as America’s next big hope by beating Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig 4-6 7-5 6-1.
DAMAGE ON GRASS
At the other end of the age spectrum, Li Na proved that 31-year-olds can still do damage on grass by thrashing Italian 11th seed Roberta Vinci 6-2 6-0.
Day seven at Wimbledon is unique as it is the only one of the four grand slams to schedule 16 fourth-round showdowns – both in men and women’s singles – on the same day.
But after a week of seismic shocks left the draw shorn of house-hold names, it was a case of ‘guess who?’ for the fans who wandered around the outside courts.
Lukasz Kubot v Adrian Mannarino on Court 14?
“Oh it’s a couple of nobodies!,” quipped one spectator as he craned his neck to see the names on the on-court scoreboard.
Had the fan stuck around to the end of the match, he would have caught sight of the latest dance craze to hit Wimbledon – Kubot doing his comical ‘can-can’ victory jig following an absorbing 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 win over Frenchman Mannarino.
Kubot and Mannarino were among four players outside the top 100 who had made it to the second yesterday.
But Kubot was the only one to survive as 166th-ranked Flavia Pennetta succumbed in straight sets to Flipkins and another Italian, 104th ranked Karin Knapp, lost to former finalist Marion Bartoli.
Poland waited 33 years for a male grand slam quarter-finalist but two arrived within minutes of each other.
The nation that boasts Radwanska as a Wimbledon finalist will have one man in the semis after Kubot set up an unlikely last-eight date with 6-foot-8 Jerzy Janowicz, who blasted down 16 aces to edge past Juergen Melzer 3-6 7-6 6-4 4-6 6-4.
Britain had also been anticipating a double celebration as for the first time since 1998, home interest was still alive in both singles draws on the second Monday.
But hopes that U.S. Open winner Murray and Laura Robson would both reach the last eight were dashed when the 19-year-old Robson bowed out 7-6(6) 7-5 to Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.
The road to the final opened up for Murray following the demise of Federer and Nadal and having played the highest seed he can face before the final, number 20 Youzhny, expectations that he will end Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s Wimbledon champion are rocketing.
Standing in his way next is world number 54 Fernando Verdasco.
Gentle giant Juan Martin Del Potro made it through to his first Wimbledon quarter-final and will face fourth seed David Ferrer.
Former finalist Tomas Berdych warmed up for the daunting prospect of facing Djokovic tomorrow with a 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4 victory over Australian Bernard Tomic.