Fallen Serena promises to be more aggressive next time around

July 1, 2013 04:14 PM
Serena Williams hits a backhand to Sabine Lisicki during their fourth-round match.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

 -- Even one of the greatest players ever cannot be expected to win every singles match at each major.

Such was the fate of 16-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams at Wimbledon on Monday, when the service-bombing Sabine Lisicki upset the defending champion and top seed, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals. The upset snapped Serena's 34-match winning streak, the longest on the WTA since 2000.

Serena was heavily favored coming into the tournament but she knew Lisicki could be trouble from the get-go -- she’s a go-for-broke player who has had her best results at Wimbledon and knew that the only way to upend the great Williams would be to hit the ball as hard as she could and hope it went in. Plus, Lisicki had beat the reigning French Open champion at Wimbledon three times in a row coming into the match. She was facing No. 4.
"Good omen," Lisicki said.
The German’s grip-and-rip strategy worked just fine in the first set but not in the second set and for a portion of the third set, when Williams took an early 3-0 lead. But the 31-year-old American lost her rhythm and grew hesitant, while Lisicki sensed that she might have another opportunity.
Lisicki broke the world’s most effective server three successive times to move ahead, 5-4.
"I felt that I was on the verge of winning," Serena said of her 3-0 lead. "At that point, I just was physically unable to hold serve. My first-serve percentage was going down. You have to be ready and willing to hold your serve.
"I wasn't willing or able, probably didn't even want to hold my serve today," Serena then added, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Serena had a chance to break back in the final game but admittedly played it too safe. The more aggressive player won this day, and that player was not Williams, who is usually more than willing to go for her shots when the match is on the line.
"I just definitely feel like I could have gone for it a little more on some of the shots," Serena said. "Definitely should have made some shots. I think Sabine played really well, as well. I definitely had my opportunities, and I didn't take them. I definitely feel like I would try at some points, then maybe I backed off a little bit at some points."
While some pundits projected Williams to be a slam dunk to win her sixth Wimbledon title, Serena knew better. She cautioned analysts on Saturday after her third-round victory that she had a very difficult match ahead against Lisicki, who upset former champion Maria Sharapova last year and previously reached the semifinals in 2011.
"I feel like I had an extremely tough draw today," Serena said. "I feel like of all the round of 16s, I probably had the toughest one. She's a great grass-court player. She's excellent. She's not a pushover. She's a great player. She has one of the biggest serves on tour. I'm not sure if maybe mine was faster, but hers is always in the 120s. She's hitting huge serves constantly, back-to-back-to-back. With the surface being a lot faster, it's going to be a little difficult to break her. She's actually super fast. She gets every ball back. She plays good defense as well."
Serena had won plenty of tight matches at the majors over the past year, including a 9-7 in-the-third-set victory over Zheng Jie en route to the 2012 Wimbledon title, a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win over Victoria Azarenka in the 2012 US Open final in a contest in which the Belarussian served for the match, and a very tight 6-3 in-the-third-set win over Svetlana Kuznetsova last month in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros on her way to the crown.
"It's definitely not a shock," Williams said. "I just need to do better. … Going forward, if I want to be successful, I'm never going to do it backing off. I have to play the game I can play. For me, that's being more aggressive."
Serena will head to a clay-court event in Bastad, Sweden, next week. As of now, her plan after that is to play the Emirates Airline US Open Series tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati before heading to New York in search of her fifth US Open title.
But before she left the grounds of the All England Club, she gave a shout out to the only American left in the singles draw -- 20-year-old Sloane Stephens, who reached her first Wimbledon quarterfinal with a hearty 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over feloow rising star Monica Puig. On Tuesday, Stephens faces 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli for a spot in the final four.
"I think Sloane has a really good chance of winning," Serena said. "She has a great draw. I think she can take it. It would be really nice to see her win."
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