Lisicki succumbs to nerves in maiden Major final

A damp squib of a match flickered briefly to life, showed promise of growing into a roaring and incandescent fire, before being summarily, almost cruelly, doused out.

Sabine Lisicki, favourite with bookmakers and experts alike ahead of the final, was confronted with two opponents on Centre Court on a warm and sunny Saturday — Marion Bartoli and her own nerves.

It was difficult to say which the bigger threat was at times in what was a strange women’s final in what has been possibly the weirdest Wimbledon in a long time.

Nervy start

The first game, which saw Bartoli’s serve broken, thanks to a couple of wonderful shots by Lisicki, and a couple of double faults, revealed nothing about what was in store.

From then on, it was the French player all the way, as she reeled off the next six games to 6-1, as a despairing Lisicki struggled to cope with the pressure of the big occasion and by Bartoli’s searing returns, particularly off the backhand side.

Unable to find her rhythm and trying to hit her way back into the game, Lisicki ended up making more and more errors, frequently overcooking the forehand that she had used to lethal effect to defeat the likes of Serena Williams and Agneiszka Radwanska.

The second set began with Lisicki flattering to deceive, holding serve with imperious ease. In the next game, she earned four break points but missed out on converting any of them.

Then it was Bartoli’s turn to pile on the pressure as Lisicki found her serve, particularly the second, going to pieces.

The mis-hits and the unforced errors kept coming as the increasingly despairing German seemed to almost be pleading with herself to stop going down the path of self-destruction.

Serve fails

Lisicki’s serve, her most potent weapon, suffered the most from her lack of self-belief. At 103 mph, her average first serve speed — and she is one of the biggest servers in the women’s game — was not much more than Bartoli’s. Her second serve speed was astonishingly slow; no wonder Bartoli stepped in to cream winners off them.

Overall, Lisicki was able to win only 52 per cent of her first serve points against Bartoli’s 79 per cent. The German also made many more unforced errors — 25 to Bartoli’s 14.

At the other end, the ball was coming off Bartoli’s racquet with that tidy thwack that comes from being hit dead centre.

A 5-1, with Lisicki two break-points down, it seemed all over bar the prize-giving and curtseying. The saving of those two break-points only led to a third, but Lisicki dug herself out of the hole with a couple of fine serves, including an ace.

Brief show of defiance

The free-stroking German then showed us — but only ever so briefly — why she has the ability to beat the best in the game.

Breaking Bartoli, who may have had a small touch of nerves herself, she proceeded to play like the Lisicki the audience has known over the last fortnight by sealing her service game with a couple of brilliant shots — the first a backhand down the line, and then one of those searing forehands.

It was impossible not to wonder at this juncture if this could be the beginning of another astonishing comeback.

If this was the beginning of the comeback by a player who can be very, very good when she is good — and, frankly, pretty awful when she is bad — then she had left it much too late.

Bartoli had neither nerves nor sympathy when serving again for the championship, taking game, set and match with an ace.

In the end it was not Bartoli’s unwavering consistency that got the better of Lisicki’s whimsical genius.

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