Agnieszka Radwanska set for semis
LONDON -- Tennis, invariably, turns on a dime. Most matches feature a moment when one player sells out -- and the other gives in.
Ten games into their quarterfinal match here at Wimbledon, Agnieszka Radwanska faced four set points on Li Na's serve. Radwanska won them all, as Li dissolved into a flurry of unforced errors.
In the tiebreaker, Li led 5-3 but again couldn't close. A hurried backhand into the net -- Li's 19th unforced error of the set -- gave Radwanska the set and, ultimately, the match.
Radwanska, a finalist here a year ago and the highest remaining seed at No. 4, won 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2. It took the eighth match point to cash Li out.
The seemingly endless match, which began a little past 1 p.m. local time and concluded at 4:35, was visited by two rain delays and as many appearances by the WTA trainer.
Radwanska will meet No. 23 seed Sabine Lisicki, who handled unseeded Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3 in Thursday's semifinals.
"Too much tennis the last few days," Radwanska said afterward. "She was playing unbelievable tennis today, and I had two tough matches last week. It's just a good problem to have."
She has known Lisicki since they were juniors.
"It will be a great challenge playing her," Radwanska said, "and I'm really looking forward to it."
This women's tournament feels a lot like the decimated 2011 event at the All England Club.
Caroline Wozniacki, believe it or not, was the No. 1 seed and lost in the fourth round, just as this year's No. 1, Serena Williams, did Monday. Kim Clijsters, who would have been the No. 2 seed, pulled out before the event with a foot injury. The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, Vera Zvonareva and Li, didn't even make it to the second week. Serena, the No. 7 seed two years ago, lost to Marion Bartoli in the fourth, and older sister Venus lost to Tsvetana Pironkova.
The No. 8 seed, Petra Kvitova, beat No. 5 Maria Sharapova in the final, 6-3, 6-4, for her maiden Grand Slam singles title. We mention this because Kvitova is the No. 8 seed this year and the present Wimbledon is the first major since that one to lose the top three seeds before the quarterfinals. That was the same year Lisicki had her best Wimbledon, reaching the semifinals before losing to Sharapova.
The grass at Wimbledon extracts a heavy price from those who advance deep into the tournament. While No. 6-seeded Li stepped on the court with black trainer's tape supporting her right knee, Radwanska sported thick, beige tape straight down the front of both thighs.
That seemed about right, for these two have had a fairly even history in their head-to-head combat. Li led the series 6-4, but Radwanska had won two of the three matches on grass. On the other hand, Li had won four of their past five matches, all in straight sets.
That's where it seemed headed until Li couldn't finish Radwanska off in that pivotal 10th game. Radwanska doesn't have Li's power game, but her intuitive feel for the game, her unnatural anticipation, tends to frustrate opponents. Actually, she can be maddening to face. And Li, in particular, can turn volatile when she is pressed.
In the second set, Li settled down and found her groove and her winners (21) were more than double her losers (10). In another gnarly 10th game, Li was the beneficiary of three net cords.
The match lurched into the third set after Radwanska, with what appeared to be a right thigh injury, called for the trainer and got a taping. It was about a 10-minute break and, clearly, it cooled Li's momentum because she was broken immediately.
With Li serving at 0-2, there was a second rain delay. When play resumed, Radwanska seemed more comfortable with the transition. She broke Li in the fifth game to take a decisive lead.
When it came to Lisicki, there was only one relevant question: Would she suffer from the "Stakhovsky effect"? Could the 23-year-old German master her emotions a day after upsetting Serena? Sergiy Stakhovsky, like so many before him, did not fare well after knocking out Roger Federer in the second round.
Uh, no problem.
Lisicki dropped a routine beating on Kanepi in a ho-hum 65 minutes.
There was no fall into the grass as there was after her upset of Serena, more of a deep squat and a modest jump for joy. Lisicki was crisper all around, producing a plus-4 ratio of winners to unforced errors; Kanepi was minus-10.
"I'm very happy," Lisicki said immediately after the match. "I had to make sure I calmed down quick enough to be ready for today. My experience playing in the quarters helped me very much. I felt even more ready for this match."
Unseeded Kanepi is 0-5 in major quarterfinals.
"I didn't play that well today," Kanepi said. "I thought if I tried to attack in previous matches I hit winners and did well, but today I was missing a lot. On grass, there is no Plan B. I just have to go for my shots.
In some quarters, Lisicki became the favorite to win this tournament when she took out the No. 1 seed. Is she feeling the pressure?
"Not at all," Lisicki said. "No pressure. To me, it's a game that I love so much. I want to keep it that way."