Lisicki, the Serena Slayer, breezes past error-ridden Kanepi

Women’s quarterfinal day in the most unpredictable Wimbledon in living memory — where highly-fancied players dropped like flies as lesser ones soared to unexpected heights — had only one top five player in the draw: Agnieszka Radwanska.

The fourth seed from Poland survived Wimbledon’s whimsical ways, a mid-match injury, and a strong and gutsy challenge from China’s Li Na to win 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-2.

This was an intriguingly poised encounter that promised to be tight between two opponents who had played as many as 10 times in the past. While Radwanska, at 2-1, had the better head-to-head on grass, Li had won four of their last five meetings.

The question at the beginning of the match was whether the lithe Radwanska, who lacks the kind of force from the baseline that modern women’s tennis demands, would be able to stave off the power and tenacity of her Chinese opponent. It is a question often asked of last year’s Wimbledon finalist, whose game recalls an earlier era when raw bludgeoning power mattered much less than the possession of all court skills and the ability to win points through a succession of strategic moves.

The match, which started nervously with both players dropping their serve, developed into a gripping edge-of-the-seat contest. It saw Radwanska, who mixes up her forehands, plays teasing drop shots, draws opponents to the tramlines, using her incredible defensive skills to keep the rampaging Li at bay.

Missing a golden chance

Li, who moved her Polish opponent from side to side for most of the match, had her chance when she was serving 5-4 for the set. After Li failed to convert four set points, Radwanska hit or rather guided — as she is accustomed to, by feeding off the power of her opponent’s service — a forehand winner down the line. She then pocketed the next point as well to level 5-5.

Li had her nose ahead in the tiebreak as well but threw it away to lose it 5-7. Having forced an early break in the second set, the Chinese player — who put away far more winners than her opponent — served out the rest of it to win 6-4.

The match seemed to have tilted firmly in favour of the mentally tough Li with Radwanska calling for a medical time-out and having her thigh heavily strapped.

But soon after the treatment, Radwanska was quickly up 2-0 in the third before a light drizzle interrupted the match for a second time on a sunless day. When the players regrouped, Radwanska grabbed the initiative, going down on her haunches to hit more powerfully than before, threading balls down the line and frustrating Li’s forays to the net.

Another service break saw Radwanska move well ahead and a late surge from Li, who fought indefatigably to save an endless string of match points, was not enough to save her.

Quick work

On Court One, Germany’s Sabine Lisicki made quick work of Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi to set up a semifinal encounter with Radwanska.

The Serena Slayer followed up the biggest win of her career with an emphatic 6-3, 6-3 victory against Kanepi, who made far too many mistakes in her bid to match Lisicki’s controlled aggression. There was but a fleeting moment when Lisicki took her foot off the pedal trailing 1-2 in the second set, but the advantage was wrested back immediately and forcefully.

In the post-match conference, Kanepi attempted to rationalise her error-ridden approach. “On grass, there is no Plan B. I just have to go for my shots. If there is a ball, I have to hit it.”

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