The No 3 seed and French Open champion Li Na yesterday became the highest-profile casualty so far in the women's draw, the 29-year-old from China losing 3-6, 6-4, 8-6 to 21-year-old wild card Sabine Lisicki from Germany. The world No 62, ranked 58 places below Li Na, sank into her chair and sobbed with pleasure and pride at the end of an engrossing match, in which she had saved two match points at 3-5 and 15-40 in the final set. For the second day in succession, following the hard-fought victory of Venus Williams on Wednesday, the tournament's nail-biter came from the women.
It was a sensational upset beneath the Centre Court roof, even though Lisicki has proven grass-court pedigree. She reached the quarter-finals here as a 19-year-old, and more significantly, unseeded, won the recent Aegon Classic in Birmingham, hammering Daniela Hantuchova in the final. She had also beaten her opponent in their only previous encounter, on clay in Stuttgart this year. Nonetheless, Li Na, the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam, and runner-up in this year's Australian Open, had been widely tipped to prosper here.
The world No 4 began well, hitting her ground strokes with the authority of a woman who had reached both of the last two Grand Slam finals. But in the second set the big-serving Lisicki bounced back, belting eight aces. She considers her serve to be one of the strongest in the women's game, and nobody could possibly have felt inclined to disagree. Her biggest serve of the match was recorded at 124mph, significantly faster than that of her opponent, at 106 mph. In fact, at Nick Bollettieri's famed academy in Florida, they have tried to slow her down, to improve her accuracy. But yesterday she lacked neither accuracy nor power.
Lisicki has had a torrid time with injuries since rising to world No 22 two years ago, a dodgy ankle in particular hampering her hard-hitting game. She spent seven weeks on crutches last year, and has also had appendicitis. But here she showed that, fully fit, she can be a match for anyone on grass. She was certainly a match for the world No 4, who noted afterwards that since her recent triumphs all her opponents raise their games against her. "If Sabine stays like this she's No 1 in the world," she added.
Lisicki was not about to make those kind of predictions of her potential, but for a young woman known at Bollettieri's academy for being intense and not smiling much, she could hardly have been jollier in her press conference. Asked whether she was bothered that she had just upset 1.4bn people, she laughed and apologised. "But you know, out there on the court it's one against one," she said.
In the third round, Lisicki will play Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi, who beat the 2008 Wimbledon semi-finalist Zheng Jie 6-3, 6-1. "I don't know anything about her," she said. "Right now, I'm enjoying my match from today. It's been a very, very good match, on a very high level. She didn't give me anything. I really had to work for it."
And she thanked the organisers for allowing her into the tournament. "I played very well in Birmingham but still they didn't have to give me a wild card," she said. "I simply love it here. I love Wimbledon."