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Thursday, June 23, 2011
Lisicki's brute power too much for Li

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- She fell to the ground, already sobbing, and when Sabine Lisicki pulled herself up, she was laughing through the tears.

It was that kind of match, as the 21-year-old German pulled off the upset of the tournament, beating freshly cast French Open champion Li Na 3-6, 6-4, 8-6. It's also been that kind of comeback for Lisicki, who has been there and back in the last year.

"Over the moon," she said when asked how she felt. "It's just amazing."

She missed five months last year after she injured her left ankle at Indian Wells back in March. Lisicki was on crutches for seven weeks and wondered if she had a future in the game. Her ranking, once as high as No. 22 (as a 19-year-old), dropped off into the 200s. At Roland Garros, she held a match point against No. 3 seed Vera Zvonareva but eventually succumbed to cramps and dizziness. She was granted a wild card into Wimbledon and she has paid back the All England Club several times over.

Lisicki, down 5-3 and 40-15, faced two match points in the third set and responded with four big first serves -- two of them aces. She converted her third match point when Li's too-big forehand was long.

In some ways, this wasn't a complete surprise. Li, the No. 3 seed, has never put together impressive back-to-back successes. Francesca Schiavone followed up last year's title at Roland Garros with a loss in the first round here. At least Li, the No. 3 seed, made it to the second round. Lisicki, meanwhile is suddenly the hottest player on grass. After losing the first four matches of her career on the living turf, she has now won 12 of 13, including the title at Birmingham two weeks ago.

Sabine Lisicki
No one is playing better on grass than Sabine Lisicki at the moment.

"Only thing I can say is unlucky for me," Li said. "Nothing wrong. Both players play unbelievable."

She credited Lisicki's serve.

"I mean, every serve was around 117 miles [per hour]," Li said. "This is impossible for the women."

In fact, Lisicki's fastest offering was a scorching 124 miles per hour. By comparison, Lleyton Hewitt's best was 121 and Novak Djokovic managed to hit one 125.

Next up is Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi, a long shot herself. The 20-year-old is ranked No. 133 in the world. One of these terrific stories will find herself in the second week of Wimbledon -- in the Sweet 16.

Here are four more things I know I think:

Isner avoids another marathon: There he was again, on Court No. 18, scene of the longest match ever a year ago here. It was getting dark and the first three sets of John Isner's match against Nicolas Almagro had all gone to tiebreakers. It looked like Isner was doomed to repeat the haunting spectacle of that three-day epic. But, thankfully, no. Almagro spared Isner, beating him 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-7 (7), 6-3. The last stroke was an ace down the middle. So, to review, Isner beat Nicolas Mahut twice at Wimbledon in two years, then fell in the second round. It had to feel a little bit like the movie "Groundhog Day."

Ryan Harrison is the real deal: He was a two-time lucky loser at these Euro Slams, but luck had nothing to do with his superb performance Thursday. The 19-year-old from Bradenton, Fla., fought No. 7 seed David Ferrer through most of four sets before darkness descended on Court 2. Harrison, who took down Ivan Ljubicic at last year's U.S. Open, could overshadow that performance when their match resumes Friday. The score, with Ferrer serving in the fourth: 6-7 (6), 6-1, 4-6, 4-2.

Nole is quietly going about his business: It's a slow news day when Djokovic's burgeoning friendship with a local squirrel is a topic of discussion in the postmatch news conference. Or, it means he's just doing what he's done all year -- winning. The 24-year-old Serb downed Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to glide into the third round without dropping a set. His record this year: 43-1. The confidence that came from starting the season 41-0 is still with him. "Mentally, I do have a different approach to Wimbledon than I had years before," he explained. "It's obvious because of the winning streak that I had, the confidence that is very high. It makes it easier, you know, to step on the court because you believe in yourself. You know that you're one of the best players in the world and you know that you can win against anybody."

Dick Enberg's favorite Wimbledon match power rankings: This is the 28th and final Wimbledon for the 13-time Emmy winner, who helped make "Breakfast at Wimbledon" a tradition for several generations. It would have been 29, but he elected to sit out the 1980 event after a contract dispute with NBC. That, of course, was the year Bjorn Borg beat John McEnroe 8-6 in their celebrated five-set final. "I missed them, and I think they missed me," said Enberg, who is 76 and working his eighth Wimbledon for ESPN. Here are his three favorite matches at the All England Club: 1. Pat Cash's straight-sets win over Ivan Lendl in the 1987 final. After winning, Cash dashed into the stands and hugged his father, a former Australian Rules Football hero. Enberg, who had lost his father three years earlier, choked up. After a long, long pause he said, "Cashed it in." 2. Jimmy Connor's five-set win over McEnroe in the 1982 final. 3. Maria Sharapova's 2004 win at the age of 17. "We didn't see it coming," Enberg said. "And then -- boom! -- it was over. It was magnificent." A fitting epitaph to an extraordinary career.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.