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LONDON -- If it was easy, arguably the greatest men's player in Wimbledon history would still be here and the five-time women's champion would not be joining the No. 2 and 3 seeds in stunned silence.
If it was easy, Serena Williams' 34-match win streak would not have been snapped Monday in the fourth round by a smiling, big-serving German who had never advanced further than this in any Grand Slam tournament but for Wimbledon.
If it was easy, it would not be Wimbledon, and Williams would not be sitting before the media as she did Monday at 4 p.m. London time, saying her 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 loss to Sabine Lisicki was "definitely not a shock."
"I feel like I had an extremely tough draw today. I feel like of all the round of 16s, I probably had the toughest one," Williams said. "I mean, I've said this, I don't know if you've heard, but she's a great grass-court player. You know, c'mon, guys, let's get with it. She's excellent. She's not a pushover. She's a great player.
|Serena Williams struggled for long stretches in her loss to Sabine Lisicki.|
"To play this match in any Wimbledon on the fourth round ... it's definitely difficult."
It should not be hard to make that argument, this year in particular, as Williams became the ninth current or former No. 1 player in the men's or women's draw to be eliminated here (eight before the third round). Williams' premature exit, along with those of No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Maria Sharapova, both of whom were out in the second round, marks the second time in three years that the top three seeds have been eliminated before the quarterfinals.
Williams' ouster also means Sloane Stephens is now the lone hope here for U.S. tennis in both the women's and men's draws after the 20-year-old defeated 65th-ranked Monica Puig 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
"I think Sloane has a really good chance of winning," Williams said. "She has a great draw. I think she can take it. It would be really nice to see her win."
Stephens is in the bottom half of a draw hollowed out when Azarenka and Sharapova exited. Stephens next plays 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli, France's top player and a 2007 Wimbledon finalist, and could meet No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, in the semifinals.
"This has been a crazy Wimbledon," Stephens said.
Stephens is now a 7-to-1 favorite to win the title, according to Ladbrokes, while Li Na is 7-2 and Kvitova and Lisicki are 3-1.
There was a feeling by some that Williams had not been tested in the tournament prior to Saturday, but then Williams, who led the rest of the women's field by a whopping margin -- almost 4,000 ratings points after winning the French Open -- has not been tested much at all over the last several months and is frequently unbeatable here.
|Sabine Lisicki celebrates her upset of world No. 1 and top overall seed Serena Williams.|
And yet grass is also a great equalizer, reducing a champion like Williams, when facing a similarly power-serving opponent, to a vulnerability not unlike anyone else.
Against Lisicki, who fell face-first on the Centre Court lawn after capturing the victory and wept in her first postmatch interview, Williams met her match on this day. Lisicki's serve reached a top speed of 122 miles per hour (to Williams' 123) and she threw in enough drop shots and off-speed stuff (14 of 16 net points won) to keep the defending champ off-balance.
Earlier in the week, Williams was asked a lighthearted question: How would the 21-year-old Serena fare against the 31-year-old version? She replied that she wouldn't want to face either one. Taken another way, the point was, is Serena the only player who can beat Serena?
"When she's focused and playing her tennis, I think she's the best tennis player in the world," Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said after the match. "But she can't be the best player in the world every day and 365 days per year. And this is the kind of day where someone can beat her, and Sabine played the match to beat her."
Lisicki, who has an unabashed love for Wimbledon (and indeed has reached the semifinals once, in 2011), advances to her third quarterfinals this year. Against Williams, she came out loose and swinging big, winning five straight games -- the final four of the first set and the opening game of the second set.
"I had opportunities in the first set ... I had so many opportunities," Williams said. "I made so many errors. I hit so many balls in the net. She definitely played a super aggressive game. When you're playing and you have absolutely nothing to lose, it's like you can really play with so much freedom and so loose. That's how she played today."
Still, Williams flashed her championship timbre right after losing those five straight games, reeling off nine consecutive games to take the second set 6-1 and surge ahead 3-0 in the third.
After committing 12 unforced errors in the first set, Williams did not commit a single error in the second. But in a close third set, it was Williams who became tentative again, committing 11 unforced errors and succumbing to 68 percent of Lisicki's first serves and 31 percent of her second. For the match, Lisicki had 10 aces to Williams' seven.
But Williams insisted that while it was a bitter defeat, it doesn't hurt more just because it occurred at Wimbledon.
"For me, any loss is extremely tough to overcome," she said. "So, again, I don't think it's a huge shock. She is a great player. Her ranking has no effect on what she should be. She should be ranked higher. Especially on grass she just has, you know, a super, super game to play well.
"I'll just have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to win this match the next time."
Mouratoglou allowed that Williams might have been "a little tired mentally," but said she has overcome that before.
"You can also say she had one day at Roland Garros that was the same kind of day and she found a way to get through and win it," he said. "If she found a way to do that today, we wouldn't be talking right now."
Just the same, he said, he has no worries about Williams taking this loss into future matches.
"This is just going to give her extra motivation," he said. "When she loses, she has the motivation to work hard, so that's bad news for her [future] opponents."