WIMBLEDON, England — All at once, there was a frenzy of activity at a wet and windy All England Club early Monday afternoon.
Top-seeded and 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, a big hitter in her own right, was overpowered in a 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 15 Sabine Lisicki. Four-time title winner Serena Williams was locked in a three-set tussle against a wild-card entry from Kazakhstan who is ranked 65th but is responsible for the only perfect set in women’s professional tennis. Defending champion Petra Kvitova was trying to come back after dropping her opening set.
Oh, and over on Centre Court, there was the not-so-insignificant matter of 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer’s medical timeout to get treatment for his aching back.
The start of Week 2 at Wimbledon has been dubbed “Manic Monday,” because it’s the only major tournament that schedules all 16 fourth-round singles matches on one day.
Sure lived up to that moniker this year, even if rain prevented five of the eight men’s matches from finishing.
The most newsworthy result was the abrupt end of Sharapova’s bid to become the first woman since Williams in 2002 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. Less than a month after completing a career Grand Slam in Paris to return to No. 1, Sharapova bowed out against someone she had beaten the three other times they met. She will be replaced atop the rankings next week.
“Nothing is easy. Certainly not a Wimbledon title,” Sharapova said. “So I don’t know if it’s easier or tougher now than it was years ago, but I don’t think it’s ever easier.”
Federer, seeking a seventh trophy at the grass-court Grand Slam, beat Xavier Malisse 7-6 (1), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 to reach a 33rd consecutive major quarterfinal, adding to his record. After the seventh game, Federer got help from a trainer for his back. When he returned, his play didn’t appear to suffer all that much, other than slower-than-usual serves. On the other hand, Federer capped the match with a 122 mph ace.
“Honestly, I’m not too worried. I’ve had bad backs over the years. I’ve been around. They go as quick as they came,” he said. “But of course I have to keep an eye on it now.”
Federer now faces No. 26 Mikhail Youzhny, a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 winner over Denis Istomin. Federer is 13-0 against Youzhny, who chose to look on the bright side, saying: “I have one more chance.”
The only other man assured a spot in Wednesday’s quarterfinals is No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The defending champion improved to 12-1 against Viktor Troicki, his doubles partner for Serbia at the upcoming London Olympics, by winning 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 under the Centre Court roof.
“Weather is always an obstacle here,” Djokovic said.
Two men’s matches never started, and three were suspended: No. 4 Andy Murray leads No. 16 Marin Cilic by a set and a break; No. 10 Mardy Fish took the first set against No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and they’re tied 1-all in the second; No. 31 Florian Mayer leads No. 18 Richard Gasquet 6-3, 2-1.
The women’s quarterfinals are set for Tuesday: No. 6 Williams vs. No. 4 Kvitova, who came back to beat No. 24 Francesca Schiavone of Italy 4-6, 7-5, 6-1; Lisicki vs. No. 8 Angelique Kerber, who ended the soon-to-retire Kim Clijsters’ last Wimbledon 6-1, 6-1; No. 2 Victoria Azarenka vs. Tamira Paszek; and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. No. 17 Maria Kirilenko.
Azarenka, the Australian Open champion, has lost only 14 games so far. The most interesting aspect of her 6-1, 6-0 win over 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic? The pigeon feathers that slowly floated down to the grass after a bird collided with the roof.
“Sometimes it can be annoying when somebody is chewing chips right when you’re serving. Doesn’t really matter; you just have to stay focused on your game. Whatever is going on around is going on around. It’s out of your hands,” Azarenka said. “But the feathers? It was fun.”
Lisicki certainly had a grand ol’ time against Sharapova, smiling all the while.
She used flat, powerful groundstrokes to neutralize Sharapova from the baseline. She also served bigger than Sharapova, reaching 118 mph and collecting six aces. A second-serve winner at 117 mph earned Lisicki’s third match point, which she converted with a second-serve ace at 108 mph, then dropped to her knees and shook her fists while Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki cheered from her Court 1 guest box. (Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls running-mate Scottie Pippen was at Williams’ match on Court 2.)
“That’s my game, to serve well and be aggressive. That’s what I did. I think it worked well,” Lisicki said. “As soon as I got the break in the second set, I knew, ‘I’m going to take it home.'”
Lisicki missed seven months in 2010 because of a left ankle injury — she’s described what she went through as having “to learn how to walk again” — and dropped out of the top 200. After twisting that ankle in April, Lisicki withdrew from two tournaments and then lost her opening matches at four consecutive events, including the French Open.
But she clearly has taken a liking to the All England Club, having reached the semifinals last year, when she lost to Sharapova.
Despite their history, Sharapova referred to Lisicki as “the girl I played today,” rather than by name. Sort of the way Williams’ father talked about Yaroslava Shvedova, who gave the 13-time major champion all she could handle over the last two sets before losing 6-1, 2-6, 7-5.
“Whatever her name is, her feet were moving very well,” Richard Williams said. “Serena’s feet weren’t moving.”
“Looked like Serena’s just not playing. She’s not moving forward. Standing still. Getting caught on her back heels too much,” he said. “Looked like if the girl took the ball early, she won the point.”
In the third round, Shvedova won every single point — 24 of 24 — in the first set against French Open runner-up Sara Errani, the first “golden set” by a woman in the 44-year Open era.
When Williams began Monday’s match by sailing her first groundstroke, a backhand, long to trail love-15, did that perfect set by Shvedova cross her mind?
“I was worried about it,” Williams joked. “I just said, ‘Serena, just get a point in this set and try to figure it out.’ I definitely thought about it.”
Quickly, the question became not whether Williams would win a point — OK, everyone knew that answer beforehand — but whether Shvedova would win a game. Call it a “Serena Set”: She won 16 of 19 points in one stretch and went ahead 5-0.
But from 2-all in the second, Shvedova began hitting backhand winners at will, serving better and returning well, too, reeling off five games in a row. After the second set ended on a forehand into the net by Williams, she earned a warning from the chair umpire for racket abuse.
Williams already was pushed to a 9-7 third set in the third round, then trailed Shvedova 5-4 in the third. But with her father yelling encouragement from the stands, Williams took the final three games.
They played through drizzles that left Shvedova’s prescription glasses tough to see through, so she removed them. And at 5-5, she double-faulted twice in a row to set up break point, then missed a backhand wide. But Shvedova insisted her mistakes had nothing to do with her vision.
“It’s just I was a bit nervous,” she said.
Plus, of course, that was Williams out there.
“In the right moments,” Shvedova explained, “she did the right things.”
That included a running, stretching cross-court backhand lob that Shvedova let drop behind her for a winner.
“I was surprised it went in. Maybe it was wind or something,” Shvedova said. “Very weird.”
Richard Williams’ take?
“Actually,” he said, “it was luck, to be honest with you.”
His daughter acknowledged she “had no intention of hitting that shot. … I thought I was going for a backhand down the line, and somehow it ended up being a cross court lob. That was not in the plans whatsoever.”
She’ll play Kvitova in a quarterfinal between the only past Wimbledon champions left in the women’s draw, now that Sharapova is gone. Williams is 2-0 against Kvitova, both straight-set victories in 2010, at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
“She’s obviously a great grass-court player, as well as I am,” Williams said. “I’ll be ready.”